A 3×3-foot environmental landscape model draws immediate attention. It includes a shallow basin on one side, representing the ocean and our Monterey Bay Sanctuary. Toy sea creatures – a dolphin, gray whale, anemone, octopus – create the scene.

Block buildings define different parts of a community across the contoured model. A red barn sits near a field. A resort hotel rests on an ocean bluff. A factory with an outflow pipe is on the opposite side of a harbor with toy boats. A car, a tractor, and a giant dog can be moved around from a gas station to a house to the beach.farm

The model is the perfect Earth Week educational tool. It provides a platform to simulate human actions, observe cause and effect, discuss environmental issues and problem-solve.

A student shakes out a layer of red cake sprinkles onto the agricultural field in one corner. This is pesticide applied to a crop of vegetables. Next, a sprinkle of green sugar crystals representing chemical fertilizer. Cinnamon dusts the field as loose top soil.

Leify_sprayingThen the rain begins –  a spray bottle showers the field. Green chemicals, red “bug spray” and brown dirt course down the contours, tainting the water in the estuary inlet and flowing into the ocean. As the contaminated water runs toward the ocean animals, students instinctively reach out to move the animals away.

Students have fun playing with the colored and textured ingredients. A pinch of rainbow sprinkles scattered along the beaches and streets simulates wrappers and debris. Chocolate sprinkles look surprisingly like dog poop. Soy sauce dripped under the toy car is an oil leak. A few squirts of foam soap covers the little car getting washed. Cinnamon dusts the construction site.

watershed dogThen it rains again. Soap, oil, garbage and pet waste wash into the storm drains and funnel into the Sanctuary. Erosion of the loose soil turns the water brown as it all flows downhill and mixes together.

The discussion turns to solutions: creating vegetation and buffer zones around fields and construction sites. Organic farming. Preserving wetlands to filter run-off water. Keeping cars tuned so they don’t leak oil. Consumer choices and being very responsible with waste or refusing and reusing to reduce.

Playing with a landscape model brings awareness and connection. It suggests stewardship projects for Earth Day (and everyday): a beach clean-up, plant restoration, gardening, tree planting. It stimulates discussion of environmental careers which require communication and problem-solving: engineering, wildlife biology, farming, city planning, politics, teaching.boys&watershedmodel

May we all work toward being model environmental citizens in a model community. “Make every day Earth Day” by recognizing our impacts and working toward positive solutions.