SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – To hear this group of sixth-graders from Emerson Elementary rattle off facts and figures about the Great Salt Lake, you’d think the lake was the theme of a hot trend on TikTok or something.
Unfortunately, for the lake, it hasn’t yet become a viral sensation as a backdrop for a fun new dance or anything like that. Still, it’s something that the kids from Josh Craner’s class are fired up and passionate about.
“The most interesting thing that I learned about the Great Salt Lake is that the brine shrimp feed millions of migratory birds every year, especially the Eared Grebe and the Phalarope,” Morgan Nicholson confidently and correctly states to ABC4.com.
Of the many things that the students in Mr. Craner’s class have learned about the Great Salt Lake, the brine shrimp have especially struck a chord. After taking a field trip out to the lake earlier this year, the class collected a small jar of lake water, filled with plenty of brine shrimp, and brought it back to their classroom in Sugar House.
Now, their latest project as part of their education about the Great Salt Lake will be sharing their appreciation and fascination with the tiny little shrimp to the top of the legislative food chain in Utah. Along with the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College, Mr. Craner’s students have posted an online petition to present their pitch to state legislators that the brine shrimp should be the official Utah State Crustacean.
The language in the petition is vibrant and colorful, a testament to how invested the kids have become in learning more about the lake, brine shrimp, and the importance of preserving both for the sake of Utah’s overall well-being.
“We have been raising brine shrimp in our class since September and have watched their life cycle repeat several times. These little Olympic swimmers glide through the water like birds soaring through the sky. Watching these majestic creatures swim is mesmerizing. They are so little yet so important to our lives and economy,” the petition reads.
Jaimi Butler, who works as the coordinator for the Institute at Westminster and is one of the top researchers on the Great Salt Lake, gives all the credit for the efforts to the sixth-graders.
“You know, I have shrimp in my office swimming around and I think the kids do a much better job of describing them,” Butler says.
Along with Mr. Craner, Butler has been working with the students to educate them about the importance of the lake and its brine shrimp and the impact they have on Utah’s climate, culture, and economy.
Drafting the petition and writing to their state senators though, has been credited entirely to the kids, according to Butler.
While it wouldn’t provide any additional protections for the brine shrimp – Butler says the state already does a great job protecting the tiny but vital creatures – giving the animal an official title would still be a great moment for those who work to protect the shrimp and the lake they live in.
“I hope that it’s a celebration for the decades of work that people in partnership with the harvest industry, researchers, and community leadership have put into this partnership that’s led to this sustainable harvest,” she says of the harvest that accounts for a $16 million contribution to the local economy. “To me, this is like a recognition of the brine shrimp.”
Though she’s probably a few years away from entering the workforce, one of Mr. Craner’s students, Elizabeth Geronimo still values the economic effect the tiny shrimp can have on the state.
“They help the Great Salt Lake and if they go away, it would threaten the ecosystem and they help with hundreds of jobs for farming the cysts,” she explains.
Not too long before the class gathered their jar of brine shrimp at the lake, the body of water reached a “terrifying” milestone, dropping below its all-time lowest recorded water levels.
As a result, Mohamed Fye has learned that conserving water is more important now than ever for Utah residents and has shared some of his findings with State Senator Derek Kitchen along with his classmates.
“We wrote to him about how the Great Salt Lake is shrinking and ways we could help it and some ways how he could help it,” he shares. “And some things that would happen afterward, if it did completely drain.”
As a result of the students’ work and the letters they’ve written to their government leaders, they’ve been invited to make a case in the state legislature for the brine shrimp to become the state Crustacean. While the trio of sixth-graders all say they’re a bit nervous to make their presentation, Nicholson says she’s looking forward to sharing her class’s passion with the legislators.
“It’s especially exciting because we’re like sixth-graders and we’re getting the opportunity to have a voice in front of all these very important people that help to run our state,” she says. “So that’s definitely very exciting.”
For Mr. Craner, seeing his students get excited about something, especially an environmental issue, and then put what they’ve learned into action, has been a thrill to watch.
“For me as an educator, I want to help my students to see that they have the potential to make a positive difference in our world,” he says. “I really try to inspire my students through different activities that we do throughout the year. So to see them latch onto this is awesome because I know that that’s going to help them in the future to see that they can continue to make a positive difference.”
And if the brine shrimp do obtain the lofty status of State Crustacean, they’ll have the sixth-graders at Emerson Elementary to thank for it.