By Ryan Bowen
“Knowledge of the oceans is more
than a matter of curiosity. Our very survival may hinge upon it.”
States President John F. Kennedy, March 1961
teachers of the world serve a highly important purpose: to educate those
that may bring us forward into tomorrow. In the future, a better
understanding of the world’s ecosystems will be crucial in the fight against
disease and starvation, perhaps even the understanding our own creation.
By teaching understanding and compassion of the ocean’s relationships, you may
spark a mind that changes the world.
zoologist of record was Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.), who was fascinated with the
aquatic life in the nearby Aegean Sea. Aristotle was unique in his
perception of aquatic life in that he observed the animal’s interactions with
the surrounding environment. These themes would be extrapolated later by
Charles Darwin, who explored these relationships in “The Origin of Species by
means of Natural Selection.” This work is rarely shadowed in its
brilliance, and I highly recommend portions to be used in conjunction with
aquarium education. A free copy of many of Darwin’s works exist here:
years ago, keeping live corals in captivity was a challenge rarely accepted.
The scientific community was convinced that marine fish would not breed after
being collected from the ocean. Students of the ocean were relegated to
visit public aquariums to observe the fascinating relationships below the
surface of the water. Today, we have a unique opportunity:
Breakthroughs in modern industry have led to neoteric
versions of “Aquarium Life Support Systems,” i.e. filtration, heating, lighting,
and water movement devices. Many corals reproduce asexually and even
sexually in hobbyist’s home aquariums, now that we are able to duplicate the
nutrient-poor waters we see in the world’s reefs. Marine fish are being
bred daily in the captivity, thousands of miles from the cyanide wielding
collectors. In fact, buying aqua-cultured (spawned, raised in captivity)
livestock is a duty of the conscientious aquarist. The scientific, moral
and therapeutic effects of aquaria are now within the average home or
opportunities an aquarium presents as a teaching tool are limitless. Are
you currently trying to translate the subject of matter to your third grade
class? An aquarium offers a perfect slice of solids, liquids and gasses
for observation. Are you comparing animals for the purpose of
classification? Fishes are among the easiest vertebrates for children to
make simple observations. Studying the properties of light? An
aquarium of freshwater plants makes an excellent example of the uses of light
below the surface of the water. Having trouble exhibiting the differences
of producers and consumers? The energy relationship is easily demonstrated
with a properly stocked aquarium and a well informed tour guide. An
explanation of a fish’s swim bladder can help a class understand the concept of
buoyancy. The delegation of tank upkeep is a wonderful tool in itself!
the system offers a unique view of pollution, and waste removal. Refilling
the system daily can teach the concept of evaporation. Mixing salt for a
water change is a fun way to examine mixtures and solutions.
Closer examination of a power-head can yield some great discussion about forces
of motion, waves and currents. This is a short list that I have arranged,
and I’m not even a certified educator! The vast amount of information that
can be relayed to a class through the use of an aquarium is much like the ocean
itself: largely unexplored.
“Of the 27
diverse phyla of life, only 17 occur on land, yet 27 of the 27 occur in the
ocean…, and so the largest proportion of biodiversity is in the ocean,” explains
Bill Fenical, Scripps Institution of Oceanography marine chemist and director of
the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine. “There are one
million cells in one milliliter of seawater and they’re all different, yet we
know something about only one or two percent of those.” The sessile
invertebrates living in the ocean rely on compounds to do their bidding, be it
love or war. “It is a jungle down there, and there’s heavy
competition between phyla and between species; this has produced some quite
remarkable compounds,” says Ken Rinehart, professor of organic chemistry at the
University of Illinois. While big business and governments across the globe are
well aware of these facts, humanity at large still stands by idly and watches
the oceans crumble. “In just three decades, a shocking 80% of the
hard coral in Caribbean reefs has disappeared. Hard coral is the main ingredient
of a reef, and the substance other reef creatures depend on for shelter. After
analyzing 65 studies of 263 reef sites, scientists from the University of East
Anglia and the Tyndall Center for Climate Change concluded that while most of
the coral loss occurred in the 1980s, the rate of loss has remained steady,”
according to the BBC News. We urgently need teachers to reinforce the
importance of saving the last great natural resource.
a family of educators, I am familiar with the economic deprivation that is
riddling our public school facilities. Fear not: this hobby is both the
most rewarding and the most challenging I have tried to date. For every
successful aquarist, there exists someone with an aquarium in their garage.
Teachers, you have classes of 30+ students! Aquariums, filters and pumps
should be items that you can have parents donate from their garage. It
doesn’t have to be pretty to teach a valuable lesson. Woodshop classes can
easily build stands, lighting hoods and even “Live Rock” with some childlike
gusto. In this series of articles, I’d like to navigate the world’s
teachers through some easy projects to get students involved in the creation of
my heart, I feel that teachers are heroes. I hope that you all find the
aquarium a valuable tool in enabling today’s youth to appreciate the beauty of
submerged life as I do. I frequently answer questions on setup and
maintenance of aquariums on WetWebMedia.com's Daily Q&A Page. I’ll
be happy to answer questions about setting up an aquarium for classroom use, or
otherwise. I’d like to follow-up this work with some simple, aquarium
based lesson plans for teachers to start extrapolating upon. I encourage
you to utilize this site’s search feature to answer many questions about
aquarium life. And teachers, it’s free!
Further Reading and Bibliography
Amber, Dave. "Converging on Marine Reserves."
The Scientist (April 16, 2001): n. page.
Axelrod, Herbert, and Leonard Schultz. Handbook of
Tropical Aquarium Fishes. N.p.: TFH Publications, n.d.
Fenner, Robert M. The Conscientious Marine
Aquarist: A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists.
N.p.: TFH Publications, 1997.
Hirsch, E.D. What Your Third Grader Needs to Know:
Fundamentals of a Good Third Grade Education. 2nd ed. N.p.: Delta,
Home Page. 25 June 2004 <http://www.oceana.com>.
Non-Contradiction.com. 20 Apr. 2004
Rayl, A.J.S.. "Oceans: Medicine Chests of the Future?"
The Scientist (December 1, 1999): N.p.