WIND POINT — Passersby of the pond behind The Prairie School may notice a 50-square-foot grassy island that has begun floating on the pond’s surface since last week.
While the island — a BioHaven Floating Island — is designed to hold plants that improve the pond’s water quality, Maya Dizack, a junior at Prairie, hopes that it will serve as a clarion call to the school and surrounding community to protect and preserve the area’s waterways
“We really want to foster an environment where not just residents but also students can learn this passion for environmental stewardship … spread it to wherever they go in the world and hopefully affect, not just locally, a global inspiration and need for environmental stewardship,” she said.
The BioHaven — launched April 20 during a day of community service and a commemoration of Earth Day — is one of two that students and faculty at The Prairie School, 4050 Lighthouse Drive, will put into the pond, the second to be launched in late May.
The launching of the first BioHaven last week marked the culmination of a project Dizack has been spearheading since the beginning of the school year in order to clean up the pond and the local watershed, specifically by reducing phosphorous levels.
“For her to find this cutting-edge technology to hopefully solve the problem is fantastic,” said Jean Weaver, Prairie’s science department chairwoman and sustainability coordinator. “This is just telling of what other accomplishments she will have in the future.”
Improving water quality
Keen on the outdoors from a young age — especially water sports in Lake Michigan — Dizack and her family have been testing water quality in the area for nearly 10 years as members of Water Action Volunteers, a volunteer group that monitors waterways in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
The Dizack family began working with Prairie in about 2009, assisting third-grade classes with conducting tests on two ponds and a stream near the school.
Dizack explained that results since then have shown an exceptionally high amount of phosphorous in the water — which she said is a problem because it allows for rapid growth of algae, which depletes oxygen and makes the water inhospitable for fish, bugs and other organisms that would otherwise live in the habitat.
The floating islands, Dizack explained, are designed to hold native plants that will reduce phosphorous in the water and prevent algae from overtaking the pond.
After a four-month environmental-activism program through Conserve School in northern Wisconsin last spring, Dizack returned to The Prairie School and embarked on a project to try to reduce phosphorous in the watershed around Wind Point.
Over the following months, Dizack made contact with a Minnesota company that produces floating islands, worked with faculty members to obtain a $4,800 grant from the Sweet Water Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, get permission to launch the from the Wind Meadows Corp. and then buy appropriate plants.
“The responsibility, the motivation, the timeliness, the adherence to deadlines and communication with adults had been phenomenal,” Weaver said. “(Dizack) has inspired and continues to inspire others to do meaningful, real-world projects.”
Maintaining the BioHavens
Dizack said a plan is in place to have students at Prairie maintain the BioHavens and monitor its effects on the pond over the coming years.
She noted that her main goal, in addition to improving local water conditions, is to bring attention to the issue and get other members of the community to take an active role in the care of the environment.
She emphasized that small actions to prevent pollution to waterways can go very far and are much easier than trying to fix the problem later. Specifically, she urged people to clean their pets’ feces off of yards and use fertilizer that does not contain phosphorous.
“You look at it as a messy room: the person that puts away their stuff in increments spends far less energy than the person that lets piles of clothing stack up and then does it all at once,” Dizack explained. “It’s so much easier to do little things than clean up one giant mess.”