Salt Spring Elementary Students revealed their newfound knowledge of the local ecosystem with their first ever Species at Risk Fair on March 13.
Five classes at the school have been studying with Salt Spring Island Conservancy school program coordinators Charlotte Bowman and Cathy Lenihan for the past three months, with funding supplied by a federal Habitat Stewardship Program grant. During the process they have investigated all 42 animal species at risk that live on or around Salt Spring, from the threaded vertigo (a snail) and the blue-grey taildropper (a tiny violet-coloured slug) to the southern resident killer whale.
“This has been a phenomenal project. It’s worked out very very well because the teachers have been completely on board,” said Lenihan.
“The amazing thing is all the kids have been thoroughly engaged,” Bowman said.
Lenihan and Bowman thought it might be a hard sell to get students interested in some of the lesser-known species at risk. Indeed, their initial discussion with students about what the term meant turned up talk of the world’s iconic large mammals: pandas, polar bears, elephants and tigers.
But once they explained the importance of every species in its native environment as part of the interconnected web of life, they found students were just as happy to take up an invertebrate for their project as they were the killer whale.
“They totally got it. The little ones, the ugly ones, the unappetizing ones are just as important as the majestic ones with all the media attention,” Lenihan said. “They were on board. They wanted to do the animals here on Salt Spring that were at risk.”