Hands-on project at LJHS brings ocean-based learning to the classroom
by Mariko Lamb
Published - 10/04/12 - 12:20 PM | 5226 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students anesthetized the white sea bass using a pre-measured powder in order to make the slippery fish easier to handle before measuring and weighing them. 
			  	  Photo by Mariko Lamb I Village News
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­­Students in Dave James’ marine-science class at La Jolla High School (LJHS) are embarking on a semester-long lesson about aquaculture in their classroom as they grow and monitor 30 juvenile white sea bass, which will be released into the wild in December.

The program, funded by the SDG&E Environmental Champions Award Program, brings scientists from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) into the classroom to teach students about aquaculture and stock enhancement — the crux of HSWRI’s marine-replenishment program.

“This [nationwide] program got started in the early 1980s because of overfishing,” said HSWRI researcher Michael Shane, who delivered the cultured sea bass to James’ classroom on Sept. 27. “We’ve been putting fish back into the ocean since 1986, hoping to bring the stocks back up.”

In 1982, legislation was drawn up to help replenish the ocean’s supply of fish, which led to the birth of the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program, a partnership among state resource agencies, public utility companies, fishing groups and the scientific community to restore depleted populations of recreationally and commercially important marine fish.

“In the 1950s, people were catching 50,000 [white sea bass] a year. In the early 1980s, it fell to less than a thousand fish a year. That’s a significant decrease in population due to overfishing and loss of local habitats, which are important for juvenile fish to survive,” said Shane. “The program has had some success because now we’re starting to see people catching more white seabass.”

The students in James’ class will contribute only a small portion of white sea bass back into the marine population; however, they will undoubtedly gain a wealth of knowledge about an industry they may never have known to exist before.

“This may apply in your lifetimes if you decide to pursue a field in aquaculture,” Shane told the students.

Regardless, they will certainly get a taste of what marine scientists do every day of the week.

Throughout the term, students will tag, feed, measure and weigh the fish — which are now only about 45 grams and five to six inches long — as well as monitor the water quality in the custom-built, temperature-controlled aquarium in their classroom.

On the first day of the project, students anesthetized, weighed and measured the fish for the record to begin tracking the growth patterns in their latest classroom pets.

“The coolest thing is that we actually get to raise the fish ourselves, take care of them and watch them grow,” said student Margaret Haerr. “We’ll be monitoring the fish every day, testing the water-quality levels, watching them grow and keeping track of it all.”

As part of the curriculum, which is now in its second year at LJHS, students will also have the opportunity to tour a larger-scale stock replenishment program at HSWRI’s hatchery in Carlsbad to observe the various life stages and technology employed in culturing white sea bass.

“There are other schools involved in this project as well in Huntington Beach,” said Shane. “You can actually compare online — what their water quality is, the growth of their fish, how that compares with our fish. There are a lot of opportunities and a lot of education and learning that are a part of this.”

Shane said he also hopes more San Diego County schools will get involved in the program and open up a web of communication among schools as the program grows.

HSWRI officials hope to not only expand the program in schools throughout San Diego County, but also to fuel a generation of marine researchers in a blossoming field right here in our oceanfront city.

“Two years ago, aquaculture for the first time actually produced 50 percent of the seafood consumed around the world. We hope to have this expand in the United States, and San Diego is a prime location for this kind of aquaculture,” Shane told students. “We’re trying to take a leadership role and work on doing aquaculture right here in this ocean. This is something that will happen in your lifetime, hopefully.”

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