Touch Tank Exhibit Offers Hands-On Exposure to Casco Bay and Climate Change

“Ninety-seven percent of Earth’s water is [in the ocean]. It’s the blue heart of the planet– we should take care of our heart.” -Sylvia Earle, biologist

Children’s Museum & Theatre Educator Samantha Connelly offers a Casco Bay Touch Tank program.

Children’s Museum & Theatre Educator Samantha Connelly offers a Casco Bay Touch Tank program.

For decades, Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine educators have been leading marine biology programs to explore sea life and marine ecology. Yet even recently, few models for developmentally-appropriate climate science curriculum for children and families existed. Fueled by the fact that Casco Bay here on the Maine coast is one of the fastest warming bodies of ocean on the planet, we began developing climate change educational programming for all ages using our Casco Bay Touch Tank exhibit. This exhibit provides hands-on exposure to the natural world for even our youngest environmental stewards. 

The diverse models of Casco Bay Touch Tank programming that we offer explore the science of climate change through hand-on models, scientific tools, and mindful breathing and movement exercises. This programming is tailored for preschool, elementary, and adult learners and allows visitors to explore the changes happening to Casco Bay and to the creatures who live there. The Touch Tank allows families a platform to discuss the science of climate change through the wonder and joy that is our ocean.   

With generous support from the University of New Mexico Climate Change and Sustainability program, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine purchased a microscope and microscope camera. With this equipment, the Casco Bay Touch Tank exhibit can reveal the vast world of microorganisms living in Maine’s coastal waters. Plants in the ocean provide around 70-75% of the oxygen we breathe, and most of those plants are microscopic phytoplankton. Connecting the microscope to the projector behind the Touch Tank exhibit allows young children to better see small ocean creatures. It also allows us to facilitate a program for larger audiences.

Children who participate in Touch Tank programs are encouraged to test the temperature and salinity of the water and compare it with current Casco Bay data. They can feel the cold water and see the number on the thermometer. “After visitors test the water, I show them seasonal data that was gathered by Friends of Casco Bay so that they can compare,” said Museum Educator Samantha Connelly. This opens up the opportunity to talk about why ocean creatures in Casco Bay prefer the cold temperatures.

You can visit the Museum & Theatre daily to check out a Casco Bay Touch Tank program.  Catch a crab, test for salinity, and search for microscopic creatures hiding in plain sight, all while discovering the interconnected nature of life on earth.

For more information about the science that documents how climate change is impacting the Maine coast, see the Press Herald’s in-depth series on Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of climate change.