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MBCI students probe Lake Winnipeg’s suffering

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Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Grade 7 students invited their peers to investigate a crime scene recently.

Andrew Fast’s class took a look into the worst-case scenario for Lake Winnipeg, which was named the Global Nature Fund’s most threatened lake in February.

Students analyzed the state of the world’s 10th-largest freshwater lake and the factors, including agricultural runoff and sewage deposits, that contribute to the toxic algae that has an adverse effect on it.

Student Emily Hollands’ family has a cabin on Lake Winnipeg, and she said she didn’t know about the dire state of the lake before starting the project in September.

"I didn’t know that there was anything wrong with it," Hollands said. "I saw the algae, but didn’t realize it was affecting the lake."

To help learn about Lake Winnipeg, Fast brought in Vicki Burns from the Lake Winnipeg Foundation and Dr. Karen Scott from the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium.

Fast said in addition to learning about the lake itself, students also got a message in media literacy, as Scott encouraged students to think more deeply about information they receive.

"She said not just to take an article where ‘it’s choking, it’s dying’ (at face value)," Fast said. "It’s not dead, not to overdramatize things, but there is an issue."

Students teamed up in small groups to research answers to questions that may need to be asked if the lake is not saved, including "Why is Lake Winnipeg dead?" and "Who is responsible?"

Alongside their findings — posted in a public hallway — students also set up a display with a tape outline of the lake cordoned off by yellow tape, and a gravesite for the lake.

Kobey Buhr’s contribution to the project was to look at the effects of products that are entering the lake — including high levels of phosphorus.

"Algae feeds off of phosphorus and nitrogen, but nitrogen is in the air, so you can’t really take that away," Buhr said. "We were trying to come up with how to get phosphorus out of the water."

Students are working to raise awareness of the lake’s plight in various ways. Katya Meechalchan and her group organized a bake sale.

"It went really well," Meechalchan said, noting the sale, held in the school’s cafeteria, raised approximately $200.

Buhr’s group, meanwhile, created brochures and dropped them in local mailboxes to raise awareness of the issue.

In addition to bringing the issue into the public eye, students are working to make changes in their own lives. Kristi Lange noted she’s become more conscious to only put water down the drain, Noah Klassen is ensuring his family uses energy-efficient appliances, and Neil Payne is ensuring he uses non-toxic household cleaners for his chores.

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