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By Anna Eekraw, ECHO high school intern, student in STEM Academy at Essex High School We recently received a new, vibrant group of ...

Welcoming a New Community of Sea Stars to ECHO

By Anna Eekraw, ECHO high school intern, student in STEM Academy at Essex High School
We recently received a new, vibrant group of sea stars that are happily settling into their new habitat. Community members have been quick to spot the new group of echinoderms, marine invertebrates with radial symmetry and hard, spiny surface, due to their bright coloration.

The new sea stars have been seen displaying light-hearted behaviors in order to adjust to their new home. One of the critter was found hanging off the wall of the tank by just one arm. Biologists aren’t sure why they do this, but a theory suggests that they’re trying to get use to their new environment.
A young sea star hangs off of rock, getting a feel for its new home, a peculiar behavior

Sea stars are a much loved member of the ECHO museum. Families love them, and children love to observe them. Visiting here as a young kid, the Champlain Sea Tank was always my favorite. It satisfied my curiosity as a little kid to see live animals and to interact with them. And the most interesting part of the sea tank? Although, all the animals are interesting and important. My favorite were always the sea stars. Their bright colors and quirky personalities were fun to learn about.
The species of sea stars at ECHO are Forbes’ Sea Star
Sea stars are a favorite among other children as well since they’re the only animal that can be touched in the sea tank. However, volunteers and children have to be very careful with them.

When asked what the most challenging part of caring for sea stars at ECHO is, animal care expert, Jen said, “Getting them here is the hardest part. Transportation takes a long time, and getting them used to the water takes a while. We also get them from the wild.”

Currently, massive die-offs of sea stars are occurring due to Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD). The first observation of this disease was in 2013. Similar die-offs of sea stars have occurred before (possibly due to other factors and not SSWD) during the 70s - 90s, but not at this magnitude.

SSWD is a deadly disease for sea stars, able to rapidly cause damage in just 3 days. It is currently affecting a large population of sea stars on the west coast. Little is still known about SSWD. Scientists aren’t sure if the disease spreads from species to species, if some take longer to express symptoms, or if some species are immune. However, humans have made an impact on the conservation status of sea stars as well, such as harvesting and pollution.

How YOU can help sea stars:
According to the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, there are 5 general things you can do to help the ocean. This, in turn, will help sea stars. These tips will help Lake Champlain as well!
  1. Water - be water wise, such as using as little fertilizer as possible to avoid phosphorus runoffs, avoid foods with pesticides, and be conscious of where your food comes from.
  2. Trash - avoid littering and reuse or recycle containers whenever possible.
  3. Fish - try to harvest sustainable fish when needed as food and pets (consuming or keeping fish that are at a healthy population in the wild); buy sea-friendly souvenirs.
  4. Carbon - reduce energy use; reduce your carbon footprint.
  5. Recreation - when on the beach, boating, or scuba diving avoid touching and harming the animals in the wild and avoid disturbing their habitats.

In a greater sense, the sea stars and other animals in the sea tank represents life in the Champlain Sea 13,000 years ago. In addition to representing the significant history of Lake Champlain, sea stars are important and vital to the ecosystem. Therefore, conservation actions are much needed to keep sea stars in the ocean. Not to mention, they are a fun addition to the ECHO animal community.

By Phelan Fretz, ECHO's Executive Director ECHO's Executive Director Phelan Fretz paddles on Lake Champlain.  We need...

Where is everyone? Kill Kare and Burton Island State Parks, Saturday in July

By Phelan Fretz, ECHO's Executive Director

ECHO's Executive Director Phelan Fretz paddles on Lake Champlain. 

We needed to check for ourselves. At May’s annual Friends of Northern Lake Champlain dinner, many folks were wondering if this was going to be the “big” year - a winter without snow and spells of spring warmth - for a bloom like no other, blue-green algae in Missisquoi and St Albans Bays.

The kayaks slipped into the warm, clear, shallow water. It was early Saturday, with the shore’s trees reaching out into St Albans Bay with their jagged shadows. Drybags in place, cockpit organized, we headed into open water. As we skirted along Mosquito Island, a Canada geese flock dominated the rocky beach with nearly full-grown young. The Lake’s bottom is always present. Silver reflections catch the eye - probably the pearly inside of native mussels that have lost their battle.

The map tells of a rocky reef, with a human-made cut marked by two buoys. This is where the Burton Island ferry slips through as it carries enthusiastic “islanders.” Lake level is very low, so we make our way over the reef near the cut. Now on the southern, windward side of Burton, a breeze has built some chop and keeps us working. We are glad for the long, sleek hull of a touring kayak as it slips through the waves. The bottom is less apparent now, hidden below the sun’s glint off the turbulent surface. A mile later, we round the island’s southern tip and head into calmer waters.  

It’s hot. With the leeward breeze pushing us, beads of sweat now moisten our backs against the seats. The Lake’s calm surface now reveals a carpet of green algae covering all the rocks below. A couple of swimmers from the Island’s campground are lazily floating, but most folks are chair-bound on the rocky beach. It feels as if we have the Lake to ourselves.

Just ahead of us is a blue and white lake cruiser, bikes upfront and laundry hanging off the stern. We follow the cruiser into Burton Island’s marina and head for what looks like the beach.  We can hear the two-story, all-aluminum ferry’s safety announcements as it pulls away from the dock. Not many folks on the upper deck.

We are greeted with more algae at the water’s edge at the beach. One elderly couple is reading in the shade. No kids. No families. Is it really a July Saturday afternoon? We disembark and discover a huge marina hidden behind a tree covered hill.  Three boats tied up.  A bistro stands longingly across the meadow.  Where is everybody?  

While we never found any of the dangerous blue-green algae, the regular green stuff was everywhere. Invasive millfoil too. Recent storms had churned up the waters, distributing any floating algal masses that typically include blue-greens. We all hear about how the health of our waters are struggling. I just witnessed it. It’s bad, real bad. And what about the folks that make their living on “beautiful waters”?  They must be struggling.   

As we left Kill Kare Park, we passed the St Albans town beach. Two football fields of beach with shaded picnic and parking.  No one, but for three kids playing at the water’s edge. The mats of washed-up algae that I have seen in the past were not present, but the word is out, “Don’t go there - it stinks and is unsafe.”  If you listened, you could almost hear the throngs of St Albans “townees” that must have converged 50 years ago, enticed by the clear waters and cool lake breezes.

What have we done?   

Hello and welcome! Marketing and Communications interns Ali and Vanessa here again to present to you this weeks podcast. Our topic this w...

The Champlain Current: Episode #4 Pokemon Go!

Hello and welcome! Marketing and Communications interns Ali and Vanessa here again to present to you this weeks podcast. Our topic this week is none other than Pokemon Go, the brand new app that has been taking the world by storm.

The game works like this, every user creates an avatar as a Pokemon trainer, when you move, your avatar moves as well. You then use a Google Maps like display on your phone to search for and capture Pokemon in the area. Certain landmarks such as parks, museums (including ECHO), restaurants, and shops are dubbed “PokeStops” where you can collect helpful items and when a Pokemon comes around your phone will vibrate to alert you. The game also recognizes what features are around you, for example if you are close to lakes, rivers, and oceans you are most likely going to see water based Pokemon. You then can capture the creatures in a "real time" setting. Which looks a little something like this.

The goal of the game is to train your Pokemon, use them for battles, and of course to catch them all. 

This game has been a huge hit especially for college students, bringing them back to the days of their childhood where playing Pokemon was incredibly popular.

Lately we've noticed many "trainers" around ECHO trying to catch water based Pokemon, which got us we decided to download the app and try it out for ourselves! In this weeks podcast we will explore ECHO as Pokemon trainers and see if any Pokemon resemble our animal ambassadors (hint: they do!) 

Take a listen below!

Hello! Marketing and Communications interns Ali and Vanessa here with an exciting announcement! This week we have brought back the ECHO po...

The Champlain Current Episode #3 Run, Jump Fly!

Hello! Marketing and Communications interns Ali and Vanessa here with an exciting announcement! This week we have brought back the ECHO podcast series otherwise known as “The Champlain Current” Each week we will be uploading a new episode featuring topics such as animal care, ECHO events, new and current exhibits, and interviews with staff and guests alike. Not only will this podcast give you insight into what might be coming to ECHO next, it will also give us a chance to show all of you exactly what goes into a typical day here, a behind the scenes if you will. These podcasts will be uploaded directly to our SoundCloud account, ECHOvt but we will also be posting them on Facebook and the blog each week. This week’s podcast is about Run, Jump, Fly, ECHO’s newest traveling exhibit which is all about getting and staying active. You can find the link below, happy listening!

By Jessie Forand/ECHO Muslim Girls Making Change visit ECHO to perform their slam poetry. Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHO On a sunny spr...

Meet: Muslim Girls Making Change

By Jessie Forand/ECHO

Muslim Girls Making Change visit ECHO to perform their slam poetry. Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHO

On a sunny spring afternoon, four young women stood in ECHO's Champ Lane, near a mural where some of them were depicted, to perform an inspiring, moving, and important piece of slam poetry. 

Kiran Waqar, Hawa Adam, Lena Ginawi, and Balkisa Abdikadir are better known around town as Muslim Girls Making Change, working with the Young Writers Project to tell their stories with the world around them. 

And they are about to take their story national. 

The young women will attend the Brave New Voices Festival & Slam Competition July 12-17 in Washington, DC, after a local send-off at Maglianero Cafe this Friday. 

What you may not know is that 3/4 of this incredible group are members of ECHO's E-Team, a teen leadership program for area high school students. 

Listen to "Wake Up America," performed in ECHO's Champ Lane: 

Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves/your group? What school(s) do you attend? What grade(s) and age(s) are you right now?
Kiran Waqar, Muslim Girls Making Change (MGMC): Muslim Girls Making Change, or MGMC, for short is a group we started a while ago to fight stereotypes. Originally we would volunteer our time at organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, Building Bright Futures, etc. Over time this evolved into the group we are today. We now use our voices to fight injustices or things personal to us. Lena and myself go to South Burlington High School while Hawa and Balkisa go to Burlington High School. We are all currently in 10th grade.
What inspired you to start to writing/performing poetry?MGMC: I began to write and perform poetry so that my voice could be heard. Our first poem, "Wake Up America," is really what got us started. In this poem we address the hidden crimes against Muslims. We really wanted to bring light to these stories swept under the rug and since no one else was doing it, we decided to. We really hoped that this piece would allow others to see Muslims as humans rather than strange and foreign. (Go home they said, go home where/The hospital where I was born/ The city where I was raised/ We aren’t just Muslims/We’re American Muslim/Equal in every way).
Muslim Girls Making Change, in Champ Lane. Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHO

What challenges have you faced while working on this project?
MGMC: One of our biggest challenges is the fact that we are such great friends! As you could see during our time with you we get very off topic and it can be difficult for us to ground ourselves and really get started. Another issue we deal with is being brave enough to perform poems that may not be popular. This is an ongoing issue and one we are still dealing with when we perform.

How did you get involved with the Young Writers Project?
MGMC: Hawa had actually seen videos of Brave New Voices and wanted to get involved. She contacted myself, Lena and Balkisa and we began to write. It almost seemed to be fate, but soon after (maybe a couple of days) we found out that Young Writers Project had an audition for BNV! We tried out and ah we got in!!

In what ways has poetry/expressing yourselves helped you grow as young adults? Have you learned anything about yourselves through this art form?
MGMC: Writing and expressing myself through poetry has really had a profound effect on me. Not only have I been able to better myself as a writer and in speaking/performing, but I have been able to reflect more and develop a deeper sense of empathy. Through slam poetry I have been able to really think about certain issues and how deep and far reaching they are when you really look at them. I have been able to feel much more deeply about issues and realize parts of me I hadn’t before. For example, in "American Dream," Hawa and I briefly mention how we assimilated in middle school and were ashamed of our culture. Until I wrote the poem, I hadn’t even thought about that. When we wrote it, I hardly knew what it meant until I was forced to examine the meaning behind our words. In this way poetry has allowed me to learn about myself and to think about others in my shoes, or who may have been put in worse situations.

What would you say to other people your age looking for a creative outlet? 
MGMC: I would tell other people my age that there is always a way to express yourself, whether it is through science or spoken word. To those who look to writing, there is no wrong way to write. There is only your way of writing and you can only get better. I would also suggest that if writing is your calling that you look into Young Writers Project, they are there to help you. 

For those of you in E-Team, what does this program mean to you? Why do you do it?
MGMC: Lena, Hawa, and myself are part of E-Team. I do E-Team because it is a way to get to meet people from all over Vermont and other parts of the world, to improve my science knowledge, and to a have a varying skill set. Through E-Team I have met people from all over allowing me to hear new stories, experiences, and viewpoints without leaving Vermont. This to me, is amazing. Through E-Team I have been able to improve my science knowledge which has been very helpful in biology class this year. E-Team taught me many other skills such as how to interact with guests, how to make an interactive and fun lesson on the spot and how to be flexible.

What are your goals for MGMC/poetry/this community?
MGMC: My first goal as of this moment, is to raise enough funds for our trip to DC ($4,500). Through our poetry, I hope that we can make positive effects in others’ lives. I hope that our poems resonate with people and increase their empathy and possibly create even bigger shifts!

Can you explain what doing to the Brave New Voices Festival means to you? That’s a huge deal!
MGMC: We are all very excited for Brave New Voices this summer! We are unbelievably thankful for this platform and we want to use it to make a change (thus the name Muslim Girls Making Change).

Anything else you would like to say? 
Thank you to Momin for being the best brother ever.

Learn more about Muslim Girls Making Change (and donate to their fundraising effort) at

By: Ali Usuloglu Catching up with @Lets Grow Kids to entertain kids and highlight the importance of early childhood! This past Saturda...

Kids and Family Play Day

By: Ali Usuloglu

Catching up with @Lets Grow Kids to entertain kids and highlight the importance of early childhood!

This past Saturday Lets Grow Kids came down to ECHO to partake and facilitate some interesting and fun activities.

Their aim was to entertain kids while teaching and spreading the importance of early learning to parents. The event was a way to tell parents about Vermont's shortage of high-quality, affordable child care.

The events such as the Parachute Play and the Lets Grow Kids: Brain Dance were widely received positive by the young-lings. Furthermore , this event isn't the only collaboration between ECHO and Lets Grow Kids. Back in February, ECHO's recently opened latest exhibit Champ Lane was a collaboration with Lets Grow Kids; an exhibit designed to offer Vermont's youngest children, fun and high-quality time of early childhood activities and events.

By Brendon Johnson/ECHO  Photos: Brendon Johnson/ECHO Spring camp season kicked off at ECHO last week with Wild Weather, proving...

A Day at Wild Weather Camp

By Brendon Johnson/ECHO 
Photos: Brendon Johnson/ECHO

Spring camp season kicked off at ECHO last week with Wild Weather, proving to be one of the science center’s most exciting times of the year. Each day children tackled a different hands-on activities that explored the wacky world of weather.

The five days of camp brought unique themes to participants, including Monday’s “On Cloud 9,” an exploration of what clouds are made of and how they are made. Tuesday featured “Make it Rain,” where students created rain sticks and learned about the rain cycle while experimenting with ECHO’s stream table. Wednesday was all about one of the prettiest parts of weather “Over the Rainbow” an exploration of the science of rainbows and color. Thursday was  “Kick Up a Storm,” a lesson about how storms are created. The week wrapped up with “Tornado Alley,” an investigation into the awesome, powerful, and magnificent forces of nature.

Sitting down to shadow a day of this camp was an incredible scientific journey. The day’s lesson was “Over the Rainbow” and it started like all days do, with a group circle. The lesson was led by ECHO’s STEM Education Coordinator Chris Whitaker, who brought his pure sense of dedication and love of science to this group of about ten students in grades K-5.  

In group circle Whitaker spoke about the colors of the rainbow and how humans see color. Music was incorporated into the lesson in the form of “ROY G. BIV,” a song by alternative rockers They Might Be Giants. This song captured the campers’ attention and focused their energy on learning and discussing color and rainbows.

After a brief lesson by Whitaker it was time to move to something more hands-on, and the lights in the room flipped off. The kids were given used CDs, and flashlights were passed around. They were about to examine how white light reflects into the colors seen in a rainbow. The room was illuminated with color as campers reflected their lights around the room. Whitaker then posed the question to students: now that they saw light turn into color, is it possible to turn it back?

This was the introduction into the morning's first activity, the creation of color wheels, which,  when spun, would make the rainbow circles on them appear as white again. This involved campers coloring the colors of the rainbow on white plates and attaching them to a string. As they manually started to spin them they could see the changes start to occur, not quite to the effect that Whitaker intended.

Whitaker brought the activity one step further. Not quite satisfied with only “kind of” being able to see the color wheels turn to white as they spun, he broke out his drill. With a little bit of tape, sticks, and creativity he rigged it onto his drill to really be able to show the kids the transformation for the colors as it spun on the automated motor of the drill.

Between science activities, the students had the chance to burn some pent-up energy with outdoor activities in the park before they returned to ECHO for an exploration of the museum itself.

When the second science activity rolled around, Whitaker set out to uncover why the colors seen in rainbows were muted. Whitaker tasked the kids with engaging some of their engineering skills to make their own bubble wands using straws, connectors, and pipe cleaners. They were challenged to use their creativity and create a wand that was more than the traditional circle wand or even one that could create multiple bubbles. After about 15 minutes, there was a huge spectrum of different bubble wants of different shapes, sizes, colors, and designs that were created. It was time to finally put them to the test.

The campers all lined up and headed outside once again, bubble wands in hand ready to test their new creations. The testing took place at Hoehl Park and one by one the kids dipped their bubble wand in the secret bubble solution. It was a windy day so half of the work was done for them. As soon as they lifted their bubble wands the wind took the almost instantly filled the park with bubbles of varying shapes and sizes. After each child got to try out their bubble wand it started to become a game of who could pop the most bubbles after they were created.
As soon as the bubble activity was over, it was time to burn off some of that extra energy before the end of the day by playing some lawn games. Campers began to play dodgeball in the park while others took a more quiet choice of reading about some of the naval history of Lake Champlain on some the monument at Hoehl Park. Another busy day at camp has come to a close.

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