Wild Water Weekend at Carnegie Science Center

Last weekend, the Carnegie Science Center was brimming with aquatic activities and marine wildlife as it hosted Wild Water Weekend, a special event in which the public could explore underwater ecosystems and the lives of sea creatures up close. This weekend was designed to educate the public about water-related activities and how each person impacts the environment.
The program included the re-opening of an underwater life touch tank, a coral reef tank exhibit, special guest speakers and demonstrations, and microbiology presentations. An EMS Master Scuba Unit team showed audiences the process of a water-rescue operation. Several presentations about the effects of human intervention on underwater ecosystems were given throughout the event.

One of the exhibits highlighted was the coral reef exhibit. Visitors could learn about different sections of a coral reef habitat up close, and about the species that live there. A coral reef is generally divided into several sections: the fore reef, back reef, lagoon, and mangrove, with each having a special purpose. For instance, a mangrove is a transition area between land and aquatic ecosystems. It houses mainly juvenile sea life, such as sea horses, anaerobic bacteria, and hermit crabs, with the mangrove plants providing these organisms with protection from predators.

The fore reef is a high–energy zone where large predatory animals live and feed off of food brought in by waves. One of the more commonly known parts is the lagoon, which is the calmest part of the reef and is home to several sedimentary creatures.

The touch tank, where kids could reach into tanks and feel the different textures of crabs or starfish, was also a big hit. The exhibit also showcased microscopic organisms that live underwater. One table had a microscope where visitors could look at these minuscule organisms, such as diatoms, a unicellular type of algae, and baby sea anemones.

To bring together such a large variety of specimens is not all that easy. Several fish and species of coral come from pet stores and direct suppliers, and on occasion are imported. Aquarium coordinator Dave Sobel said, “There’s also a lot of trade that takes place between different aquariums. Our sea horses came from San Diego, our jellyfish came from the aquarium in Chicago, and our bubble tipped anemones came from an aquarium in Boston.”

The Wild Water special events were not just limited to the indoors. The Ohio River, adjacent to the science center, was the site of a scuba diver rescue demonstration. The Pittsburgh Emergency Services Scuba Rescue Unit showed their skills in diving and medical care and explained the different functions of their equipment. Also present was River Quest’s brand new, hybrid powered passenger vessel, which provided tours of the Ohio River.

River Quest is a Pittsburgh- based charter company that, according to their brochure, aims to “connect people to their environment” by means of underwater ecological exploration.

However, the focus was not only on underwater life. On Saturday, Sept. 13, the Carnegie Science Center hosted guest speaker Joylette Portlock, who gave a presentation elaborating on Al Gore’s project, An Inconvenient Truth. Representing The Climate Project Organization, Portlock, who received her doctorate at Stanford in genetics, is one of a thousand volunteers chosen by Gore’s foundation to educate their communities about the harmful effects of global warming. The Climate Project was started by Nobel Laureate Al Gore as an effort to raise political awareness and reduce America’s emission of greenhouse gases, which are natural gases found in the Earth’s atmosphere. Human industry creates an excess of these gases, thus helping to expedite global warming.

Currently, the United States is the largest producer of greenhouse gases, with Russia second but creating only half as much of these gases as the United States.

“Right now, the U.S. is still the only developed nation in the world which has not signed the Kyoto Protocol,” Portlock said. “The U.S. is so powerful. If we would lead instead of being dragged by everybody else in the world, then I think we could do a lot more.” The Kyoto Protocol is a global agreement between 181 countries in which each member will reduce their emission of several greenhouse gases.

When asked about what possible solutions there were to reduce pollution, Portlock said, “I think we need to put some kind of price on carbon emissions. Right now, there’s no reason why carbon emission is bad, besides ‘oh it’s not the right thing,’ but there’s no monetary association. If we did that, there would be more of an incentive for people not to pollute.”

Portlock believes that the future holds hope for a larger green movement. “We do still have a window; it’s closing, but we do have a small window of opportunity. If we start aggressively reducing our carbon emissions now, we can get to 40 percent reduction by 2025.” Portlock advised people to reduce their energy uses in small ways. She asked people to ride a bike or walk instead of drive to a close-by place, to use energy efficient appliances, and to reduce the use of heating and air conditioning.