Pictured: Pasha Heydari (left), Benjamin Rassibi (center), Cheng Ning (right) near a creek where they deployed traps to capture invasive crawfish as part of a grant winning project in Oak Park, Summer 2020. Photo submitted.

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

Three middle school students who call themselves Team Crayfish have won a $10,000 grant and taken first place in the OurEcho Challenge, a grant contest of EarthEcho International aimed at protecting biodiversity in local communities by empowering students to develop and implement projects.

“Our grand prize winners impressed the judges with their ingenuity and grasp of the complex issues that they chose to address. We are inspired and energized by their vision for a brighter future,” said Philippe Cousteau, co-founder with sister Alexandra (grandchildren of renowned marine explorer Jacques Cousteau) of EarthEcho. 

Pasha Heydari, Cheng Ning and Benjamin Rassibi of Medea Creek Middle School in Oak Park came up with the idea of trapping and moving invasive crawfish from a local waterway when they learned about the impact crawfish have on the ecosystem during a class field trip. The team is mentored by Katie Wilsker, a science teacher at Medea Creek Middle School.

“Crawfish are bad for the environment. They’re voracious eaters. They eat tadpoles, small fish and, most importantly, dragonfly eggs,” said Ning in the team’s project video. He explains that dragonflies are key to biodiversity in the area because they eat mosquito larvae, thus preventing a large mosquito population — and helping with disease prevention. 

The team designed a crawfish trap by upcycling plastic water and drink bottles and “deployed” them in the waterway. The traps worked. The grant funding will allow the team to continue their project. 

Team Crayfish was selected as the first-place winner after presenting their project along with the 10 finalists during the virtual Fifth Annual EarthEcho Youth Leadership Summit on Aug. 6. Projects were judged on inspiration and connection to community, scientific rigor and feasibility.

The team was among hundreds of attendees from 44 countries and territories. The panel of judges included fellow students, environmental and corporate leaders, engineers, scientists and educators. 

More information at www.OurEchoChallenge.org