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Children learn ecological lessons

Five-year-old Ricky Harb isn't too young to know the obvious. "The fish die when the water gets all polluted," he said. It is a simple lesson learned from two fish tanks filled with water and plastic fish. One tank has plastic fish drifting in clear water. The other tank has muck and plastic fish floating on top of the green-black water.

That polluted water kills fish is one of the many lessons youngsters learn at the "I Touch the Earth" exhibit, which opened this month at the Children's Museum of Tampa. Admission is $2.

About 30 displays are in the brightly lit playroom that is home to the exhibit. It shows children what pollution does to the Earth and how they can protect the environment.

The exhibit runs until June 1992 and is designed for children 10 and younger. The Children's Museum decided to open it after finding few environmental exhibits in Tampa directed at youngsters, said Marian Winters, the museum's executive director.

Unlike most adults, who learned the dangers of pollution when they grew up, today's "kids are really aware of the environment," Winters said.

"If we reinforce this, they will grow up with these habits," Winters said.

Several environmental groups contributed to the design of the exhibit, she said.

As part of the colorful exhibit, jars demonstrate how the land is fouled. In one, neat layers of sediment show a natural cross-section of the earth. In another, black dirt is laced with chunks of metal, plastic foam and other garbage _ a tiny scale model cross-section of a landfill.

A fake grocery store in a corner of the exhibit teaches youths about over-packaging, wastefully wrapping food in mounds of paper and plastic.

Recycling lessons continue outside where a "junkasaurus" stands on its hind legs, teeth bared to the sky. The 6-foot dinosaur-like sculpture is made of wooden planks. Hanging on the planks are toys made from empty food and drink containers.

And, of course, there is Ricky Harb's favorite, the floating fish.

"I think people shouldn't throw trash in the water," he said. "It makes the fish all die and then we can't fish."

Learn more about it

The Children's Museum of Tampa is at 7550 N Boulevard, near Lowry Park. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 935-8441.