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Del Mar students explore lagoon life

DEL MAR — Slimy, gushy and like spaghetti were just a few of the ways local elementary school students described the inhabitants of the San Dieguito Lagoon during an outdoor educational lab April 13 to April 15.
About 600 third-graders from six Del Mar schools rotated among five stations set up along the boardwalk off Jimmy Durante Boulevard across from the fairgrounds.
Prior to their visit, the students were taught about the lagoon ecosystem. When they arrived, the young environmentalists touched a variety of lagoon creatures, tested water quality, planted a wetlands pickleweed, made a seed ball of native plants and learned about the birds and predators that call the lagoon home.
“The primary priority for Fish and Wildlife is to connect people with nature — and especially children with nature so they will want to preserve it,” said Carolyn Lieberman of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, one of five organizations that participated in the event. “Kids are our stewards for the future. Connecting them with nature doesn’t have to be hard. They can just go outside and take a walk.”
Manned by scientists, biologists and hydrologists, each station provided a hands-on lesson about all aspects of the coastal nature preserve. For example, while the students mixed dirt and water with seeds, Annemarie Cox, from the San Diego Archaeological Center, and Barbara Baker, of the San Dieguito River Park, explained how Native Americans used the plants for food, medicine and fiber to make baskets and cords.
“The seed balls can be stored indefinitely,” Baker said. “When the dirt dries, you just throw the ball and wait for the flowers to grow.”
“I liked making the dirt ball and planting seeds because I like to plant,” Nastassya Karaoglanova, a third-grader from Ashley Falls Elementary School, said.
Jason Picker, one of Nastassya’s schoolmates, also liked getting his hands dirty. “I liked to plant because I want to make a garden at home,” he said.
Another popular station featured fish and invertebrates such as top smelt, anchovies and jackknife clams that were gathered from the lagoon just before the students arrived.
“Wow, that feels so cool,” Connor Howard said as he felt a sea slug. “I liked touching the slugs because they were slimy,” he said.
The gastropods were also a favorite for Derek Rusher, but he had a hard time finding the right word to describe their texture. “I liked feeling the sea slugs because they, because they … well just because,” Derek said.
The three-day event was part of a series of activities leading up to Earth Day on April 22. Last year, 80 students from two schools participated. The program was hosted by San Diego Gas & Electric, which, along with Southern California Edison, is currently helping to restore the lagoon.