On carbon dioxide, our oceans

Local nonprofit educates on ocean acidification

Chemistry+students+sit+among+laboratory+supplies+as+they+analyze+the+degradation+of+pteropod%27s+shells.

Sam Barney-Gibbs/Talon

Chemistry students sit among laboratory supplies as they analyze the degradation of pteropod's shells.

The Founder and Director of MERITO — Multicultural Education for Resources Issues Threatening Oceans — Foundation, Rocio Lozano-Knowlton, held two objects up to the class: one was a reusable water bottle, the other a ringed binder.

“Everything we buy, like this binder, has a cost,” Lozano-Knowlton said to the third period CP chemistry class.

On March 4, Lozano-Knowlton presented to the CP chemistry classes of science teacher Zaloa Goiri Virto on the intricacies of ocean acidification. According to NOAA, it is “a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Essentially, the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, negatively affecting marine ecosystems and marine life. 

In addition, Lozano-Knowlton believes this is a concept to which much of the population is seemingly blind. 

MERITO Foundation believes in “protecting the ocean by facilitating education, conservation, and scientific research opportunities to multicultural youth and their communities … to inspire the generation of environmental professionals.”

As a part of this vision, they began developing lesson plans on this topic nearly nine years ago.

“Hardly anyone talked about ocean acidification,” Lozano-Knowlton said. “It is very important because I would say 90% of the people on the planet don’t know what it is. It’s getting better, but eight years ago, nobody knew.”

Each of Goiri Virto’s three chemistry periods received a presentation comprised of the connections between the physiological changes in marine life and chemical changes, a world map of carbon dioxide concentrations in oceans and data exemplifying the effects of increased carbon dioxide emissions.

This was followed by a brain-stimulating activity where students split up into groups, analyzing the dissolution of pteropod shells. Or as Lozano-Knowlton compared it to, it is osteoporosis — or brittle nature — of this quasi-sea snail, due to acidification.

“I think it is a good idea to bring a guest speaker that is an expert in the field and have the kids learn from her and work on an activity that is hands-on,” Goiri Virto said, “so they can explore exactly what ocean acidification [is].”

Lozano-Knowlton’s nonprofit typically works with Title 1 schools — those with high percentages of students coming from low-income families. MERITO brings knowledge of environmental problems to students that can’t necessarily take advantage of similar resources other schools are privileged to have. According to Lozano-Knowlton, MERITO Foundation has developed 75 lesson plans on ocean-related issues and concepts and has teamed up with more than 200 teachers in the past 15 years.

“But we like to work with any teachers who are willing,” Lozano-Knowlton said, “so we can all address environmental issues at an early stage.”

When Goiri Virto introduced herself to Lozano-Knowlton at the NGSS Rollout on Environmental Literacy, the two agreed that ocean acidification lessons at Oak Park High School could become an intriguing reality.

“I teach ocean acidification as part of the curriculum in chemistry, and I think that it is important to bring people from other organizations that help us understand the environmental issues our planet is facing,” Goiri Virto said. “This is something that is happening in the planet currently and if we’re learning chemistry, there has to be a way to connect what we learn with these phenomena and understand the reason behind it.”

In fact, Goiri Virto’s foundational teaching in these classes was an incentive for Lozano-Knowlton to present.

With more education on sustainability being implemented at OPHS, Goiri-Virto’s response to possibly improving and expanding this program was: “definitely.”

“The idea is that we get funds and have a budget for us to do this for all my CP chemistry classes,” Goiri-Virto said. “If there [are] any other teachers who want to join us, for sure, it would be great.”

A junior and one of Goiri Virto’s students, Ariel Avital, shared her take on the new experience and its significance.

“I do think the presentation could have been more interactive and less lecture-based as to get the whole class involved,” Avital wrote. “Regardless, I do think that people should know about ocean acidification.”

During this first round of presentations, students were not only given a lesson but a call to action.

“We’re not taught that everything we consume has a cost — an environmental cost,” Lozano-Knowlton said pointing out her reusable bottle and binder once more. “More people [must] understand it with evidence-based facts, and [becoming] scientifically-literate is very important so we make informed decisions in our lives.”