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Below The Surface

Friday, May 22, 2015

Behind-the-Scenes Tour

By Jessie Forand/ECHO

Did you know ECHO has a brand new program letting you go behind the scenes with Animal Care experts?

Groups of 10 or less can sign up to see how our more than 70 species are cared for on a daily basis.

Learn what goes into keeping ECHO running and our animal ambassadors happy and healthy. Get to know our turtles, fish, and snakes (oh my!) up close and personal, and meet some truly awesome staff.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bye Bye to Bottles at ECHO

By Jessie Forand/ECHO

Photo by Jessie Forand/ECHO

We are so excited to announce that starting this month, ECHO will be totally free of plastic water bottles.

It’s high time we do away with throw-away bottles, and thanks to a great partnership with Clear Water Filtration, we will soon have three water filtration fill stations around the building!

Going forward, ECHO will be BYOB – bring your own bottle! Or better yet, check out the great new selection coming to our gift shop so you can represent ECHO inside our building and out in the community.

To celebrate this huge change, we will be giving free ECHO water bottles to the first 50 members through the door on May 30, the opening day of our newest exhibit “Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl: Home Sweet Home.”

We’ll have more information as the kickoff approaches, but for now here are some facts about plastic pollution:
  •           50 percent of plastics are used once and thrown away

  •           Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times

  •           The average American throws away 185 lbs. of plastic per year

  •           Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles each year

  •           More than 1 million plastic bags are used every minute

  •           It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade
  •           44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species, and an increasing number of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies

Monday, May 11, 2015

Wood Turtle Sighting

ECHO's Environmental Exhibit Specialist Shannon Kane enjoyed the sun this weekend, fishing with her mother, aunt, and grandmother.

Shannon's grandmother got a bite no one was expecting - a male wood turtle ended up on her line!

The male wood turtle (Photos: Shannon Kane/ECHO)

While Shannon spends her days with the three wood turtles that live at ECHO, she said she had never seen one in the wild.

Lucky for this little guy Shannon is an animal care expert and managed to remove the hook. She said he received only minor damage... and he posed for a mini photo shoot.

Shannon said she was going to report the sighting to State Herpetologist Jim Andrews. If you see something rare and interesting in your travels, make sure you do the same!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Behind the Scenes: A dive in the Lake Tank

By Jessie Forand/ECHO

(Environmental Exhibit Specialist Jenn Dean dives with the fish at ECHO Wednesday morning. Photo Jessie Forand/ECHO)

Before door opened to the public on Wednesday, a shock of blond hair zipped around the ECHO Lake Champlain aquatic display tank, or the Lake Tank as it is commonly known. Attached to the swirling ponytail was Jenn Dean, environmental exhibit specialist.

Sporting a wet suit and underwater gear, Dean joined the native fish species for an important reason. Animal care employees noticed an increase of organic matter in the tank, meaning some part of the filtration process was not working properly.

The tank will naturally contain some organic matter, but certain things, like ammonia, nitrite, and anaerobic materials can harm the species.

Dean was tasked with investigating.

A series of pipes located below the tank is used in the filtration process, forcing the water where it needs to go. These pipes are buried below grating, mesh, and window screen. To check on the problem area some of the piping was stopped temporarily, causing all the water to be pushed up from bottom of the tank and allowing Jenn to see what was going on.

Today’s diving adventure was not routine maintenance. It was the first step, investigating and scrubbing, before next time, when employees will bring a vacuum into the water and physically move rocks in the habitat.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Shine Bright Like a ... Lake Tank

By Jessie Forand/ECHO 

Our schooling fish tank, soon to house invasives as part of a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, trout and salmon tank and the lake tank have all been converted to LED lighting. In addition to being one drop to help the greater good, it makes for amazing and attractive views for our guests.

(Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHO)

If you’ve visited ECHO lately, chances are you have seen the new-and-improved “big fish” lake tank, home to sturgeon, catfish, and more.

In order to improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption, something we’re always striving for, 32 three-watt LED bulbs were installed. This replaces two 170-watt metal hallide bulbs, according to Steve Smith, director of facilities and animal care.

Smith noted some of the challenges involved in lighting an aquarium. “We want to ensure that the light penetrates to the bottom and is dispersed throughout the habitat,” he said. “We also want to use a neutral color so guests can see the true appearance of the fish. Bulbs in the lower kelvin range can yellow or redden fish colors.

You might notice the tank corners look darker than the rest of the space. According to Smith, this was intentional – the fish just need a place to hide sometimes, when their fellow tank-dwellers aren't playing nice.

Friday, May 1, 2015

ECHO Welcomes New Board Members

By Jessie Forand/ECHO 

Four new members joined ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain's board of directors on April 1. Some are returning after previous board terms and others are brand new. 

Take a minute to get to know them: 

Sarah Muyskens

Former ECHO board chair Sarah Muyskens returns after taking some time off. Muyskens has served on a myriad of local boards and has been intimately involved with ECHO since its inception. In fact, she was heard telling a staff recently “I love this place.”

As a mother with three young children when ECHO was developed, Muyskens felt it was a “very good addition to the waterfront on all counts.”

Her kids are now in their 20s, but they continue visiting ECHO, particularly its AfterDark events and one dedicating time to volunteer.

This time around Muyskens said she wants to understand organizational changes that have taken place and continue working to build a community resource, part of ECHO’s base mission.

“It’s all about understanding the place where you’re living,” she said, adding that ECHO visitors leave the science center having gained a better sense of place.

Muyskens is also passionate about the health of Lake Champlain – she wants ECHO to be the go-to place for lake cleanup work. This long-term goal calls for a collective effort, in line with the organization’s “One Drop” message.
Paul Sisson

Another longtime board member, Paul Sisson is back on the board.

A CPA by trade, Sisson’s work on the board so far has involved serving as chair for the planning and finance committee. “The still-young ECHO has become stronger and is in a great financial position,” he said.

Sisson had a lifelong connection with the one of the founding board members and fundraiser for ECHO, George Little, who was his father’s best friend. Sisson’s father also contributed to the organization.

Though raised in Pennsylvania, Sisson has spent much of his life on Lake Champlain and is glad the lake is now in the forefront of important conversations in the state. Lake quality is of great interest to him.

Sisson’s goals on the board this time include working to broaden ECHO’s audience and target age groups (he used the AfterDark events and fresh exhibits as examples of how this can be done), helping to fill personnel changes, working on sustainability park, and offering himself to any project where he is needed.
Tom Leavitt

Tom Leavitt joins the board for the first time, but has worked with ECHO professionally in the past, particularly in his role as senior management with Merchant’s Bank, which supported ECHO from its beginning.

Now acting as president and CEO at Northfield Savings Bank, Leavitt said he has followed the organization’s growth and when he was approached late last year decided to join the board.

In addition to serving as a science center, Leavitt was excited to see ECHO pushing its ecology mission and working closely with the UVM Rubenstein Lab to dedicate itself to high-caliber work.

He has served on a number of other boards: the Boys and Girls Club, the Burlington Business Association, Vermont Bankers Association, and the Vermont Council on Rural Development. He continues to act on the board for Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy and the Flynn Center.

Leavitt will start his term learning from more senior board members and staff.

Scott Rossborough

New to the ECHO board and to the area, Scott Rossborough moved to Fayston from Massachusetts in recent years (after keeping a second home and 30 acres of land in the Mad River Valley since the 1990s). He works as a new product development and innovation consultant and was looking to get closely involved with a community organization in his new state.
After looking into many of the area’s nonprofit organizations, Rossborough said ECHO was a good fit. There is opportunity here, he said, a project with a vision and mission.

It is those elements Rossborough is most excited to explore. In fact, he said the former title of ECHO as lake aquarium and science center isn’t enough. Yes, Lake Champlain is great, he said, but he wants to see ECHO become the epicenter of water quality far beyond the lake’s reaches.

“It can become a steward of water in all its forms,” he said.

Rossborough also wants ECHO as a place, a symbol for the community, to be leveraged more. He said, “It’s so beautiful, it can be an emblem.” This also includes heightened efforts to reach new groups of people and make ECHO as a building stand out even more on the waterfront.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Wildlife Encounters at MudFest

By Jessie Forand/ECHO 

This brave soul is Logan Fox. She made some new friends at ECHO on Saturday in these Madagascar hissing cockroaches. After learning about the difference in appearance of male and female varieties, she offered herself up as playground for the critters. 

Thanks to Logan, we now know that cockroaches may bite, as is the case with any animal, but they DO NOT eat children. 

Here are some of the other exciting animals we were introduced to by Wildlife Ecounters

Giant Argentine Tegu Lizard 

These lizards are a non-native invasive species, not unlike the plants and animals that have made their way into Lake Champlain.

Named Monster, this creature is a South American native but related to the Gila monster and the Mexican  beaded lizard.

The tegu's skin is both smooth and bumpy - kind of like mud! - and is similar to humans' fingernails.

Tegu lizards use mud to look for food, they find bugs to eat, dig and burrow, and use the dirty stuff to treat skin illnesses and wounds.

Monster was rescued by the Upper Valley Reptile Group after living in a fish tank in Vermont. He was underweight and sick.

African Giant Bullfrog: 

"Jelly Belly" the bullfrog is one year old and weighs less than 1 lb. When he's done growing, he could weigh  up to 10 lbs. 

Living in sub-Saharan Africa, these frogs rely on the rainy season to create a more temporary version of Lake Champlain. Once the land is flooded, mothers lay between 2,000 and 4,000 eggs, then leave. The fathers guard the eggs

As the "lake" begins to evaporate, the fathers must dig trenches to make sure the eggs don't dry up and their growing tadpoles stay safe. 

These guys use the mud in another way, too. Before it dries up after the rainy season, they dig themselves down into the mud, which then dries around them. They stay in these muddy enclosures for 6-9 months, waiting for the next rainy season. 

Sulcata Tortoise:

This guy's name is "Frodo." Wildlife Encounter's Derek Small shared  mud-tastic story: The creatures are known for digging in the mud, creating burrows and constantly just throwing dirt around. A while ago Frodo decided to go into a previously dug burrow and was hiding out there. When Small noticed the overnight temperatures, expected to dip below zero, he knew Frodo couldn't stay outside underground. 

Eventually Megan, a high school senior who works for the company, and very tall, Small said, climbed in after the tortoise to pull it out! 
When she emerged, Megan was nice and muddy. 

Mini Pig: 

Last but not least, we have all heard about pigs loving mud. They use the dirty stuff to protect their skin and as a sunscreen. And they're pretty cute! 

See more photos here and keep an eye out for Wildlife Encounters' next ECHO visit!