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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Belfer

What Is a Watershed Walkabout?

When I was in Australia, studying to become a Conservation Biologist, I learned the term "walkabout." A walkabout is simply a hike through the bush. The bush, to Australians, is the forest or mountains. I went on many walkabouts by myself and with fellow students my first semester, adventuring up the mountainside abutting our campus or catching a bus into town to go to some of the beautiful gardens and parks. We even signed up for a three-waterfalls tour our first week there, which had us going on a walkabout up a mountain about a half a mile!

Fast forward about seven years to when I was creating our big book of lessons with my best friend from college. I needed to use my writing/author skills to come up with unique names for each lesson and I'm a sucker for alliteration (when all the words start with the same letter). For one particular lesson, I used Watershed Walkabout, because the goal of the lesson was to introduce students to what happens when pollution enters the watershed and how it affects everything from the headwaters to the coast.

This particular lesson is adapted as a "do-it-yourself" type of EnviroScape model. For those not familiar with EnviroScape, I believe every environmental non-profit has this large plastic model of a watershed, complete with small cars, houses, tractors, and a few oysters/fish to place at the very end of the river. You add certain things to represent pollution: soy sauce for oil, red sprinkles for chemicals, green sprinkles for fertilizer, and brown jimmies (larger sprinkles) for pet waste. As students demonstrate rainfall, these items will seep into the waterway and they can watch how it accumulates downstream.

The Watershed Walkabout lesson uses all the same materials but students create their own town with things such as clay, toy trees, grasses, and twigs. The reason I adapted this lesson is in part because I could not afford the real EnviroScape model (upwards of $1000). The other reason was that I wanted to ensure underserved students had access to an understanding of their watershed, making the materials easier to find and afford.

When I was developing a business, I wanted a cool name for the outreach program I was going to conduct. Watershed Walkabout was fitting, as the goal and mission of the program is to help students from K-12 understand what is in their watershed, from flora and fauna, to people and pollution. Although we aren't taking a real walkabout outdoors (yet), each lesson takes students on an adventure to understand the importance of the unique coastal ecosystems we have here.

When we first developed the big book of lessons, each unit was designed to touch on different parts of the watershed, from barrier islands and marshes, to migrating species and water quality. So the first iteration of the Watershed Walkabout program was a do-it-yourself type of exploration through each of the units. Each lesson I chose gave students the ability to work together in groups, brainstorm, use critical thinking skills, and communicate effectively to understand the goals and objectives of the learning models.

Now in its SIXTH year, Watershed Walkabout has expanded from New Hanover County to Brunswick, Pender, and Onslow Counties. We changed our lesson offerings to fit more with the curriculum per grade, instead of watershed units. And this spring, we are launching a brand new offshoot called Young Ecologists, focusing on watershed walkabouts for preschool and pre-k students.

So what began as a "do-it-yourself" lesson plan book for educators to be empowered to do it in their own classrooms became a DIY project for myself to build a business. I self-published our Explore your Watershed series books during COVID lockdown, so families could do watershed walkabouts on their own time. In the next year or two, we will be doing our own videos and content on each of the ecosystems we cover in our lessons, and we will be conducting workshops for educators monthly to learn how to teach it themselves. We are all going to on a walkabout through our watershed in our own way and that's a huge part of Marine CSI's mission and vision.

For more information on our Watershed Walkabout program, go to our sites for each region: for New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties, for Onslow County, and for our brand new preschool/pre-k program.

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