The science club at Corner Brook Intermediate School knows a thing or two about symbiosis.
For the last two years, the club has been working on making its self-built aquaponics system a productive operation.
Judging from the sweet-tasting sugar snap peas and other edible plants thriving in the school’s science lab, it has been a success.
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Under the guidance of science teacher Raphael Soucy, who had lots of help from other school staff, the club designed and built an elaborate system to grow the plants.
The key is eight big goldfish swimming in an aquarium. Water from the tank and the excrement the fish produce is filtered through a series of tubes to a wall of planting trays installed along the large windows of the laboratory near the aquarium.
The fish waste and water pumped from the tank fertilize the plants without the need for soil, chemicals or any other form of fertilizer.
“It’s a good way to recycle the water without having to change the water all the time,” explained Sarah Pembroke, a 12-year-old Grade 7 student who is one of the core members of the science club involved with the aquaponics project.
The filtered water gets fed back into the fish tank, reducing the need to change the tank water regularly. In fact, Soucy said the water had to be changed just once during this entire school year so far.
Besides the sugar snap peas, the aquaponics system is producing tomato plants, lettuce, basil, cilantro, oregano and parsley. Some of the herbs have been harvested several times by club members and taken home to be used in family meal preparation.
Rachel Reid, also an avid club member in Grade 7, said making the system was a great experience and it’s been neat watching the plants grow and thrive in this environment.
“It’s really fun since my friends are in it too and we like doing things together,” she said. “The fresh food is really yummy and it’s cool to be able to take it home.”
A third science club member dedicated to the project is Rebecca Pye, also in Grade 7.
She enjoys watching the fish and seeing how they help produce food for the adjacent components of the system. She said learning about how this works has really piqued her interest in science.
“I love science,” she said. “It’s my favourite subject by far. I don’t know if I’ll have a career in it, but I would definitely like to do something with science in the future, maybe as a volunteer.”
The aquaponics system was built with clear trays so the plant root systems can be visible. Some of the plants are floating in small planters while some have their roots tangled around the lava rocks and clay pebbles at the bottom of the trays.
The system is not just for the science club members, noted Soucy.
“For the most part, this has been an extra-curricular activity, but we are trying to incorporate it into the regular curriculum,” he said.
Most of the school has been in to check out the system and science classes have been using the system to explain how the nutrient cycle works in nature.
“It has been a great success and it is definitely something we will be doing more with in the future,” said Soucy. “It’s been a fun project and there are lots of possibilities.”
The club’s goal for the rest of this year will be to try and grow as many tomato plants as possible so they can hand out some to students and teachers when school ends in June.
As for the fish, they actually belong to a member of the school board who graciously offered them for this project. While the system could operate all year long, the fish will be taken back by their owner to swim in an outside garden pond during the summer months.