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Activities with Aquaponics

It’s always a great time to dig in and get your hands a little dirty. We here at Symbiotic love to explore and learn about the world around us, and we have a few activities to share with you. These activities can be done for kids (and adults) of all ages, and interact well with the ideas behind why we love aquaponics so much. A big thanks to Outdoor Classroom, BlueThumb Oklahoma and Cheryl Cheadle, and our Education Specialist Reese Hundley for providing these opportunities to learn together.

Erosion in a Bottle Model

Thanks to Water Action Volunteers for the pdf and Cheryl Cheadle of BlueThumb Oklahoma for building this activity with us.

Instead of just hearing about runoff, this activity allows us to experience this phenomenon right in front of our eyes.

This activity uses (4) two-liter bottles, and you will construct this contraption so water flows through the bottles, as shown on the diagram in the pdf below. Using sand, dirt, and water to flow through the bottles, the activity will demonstrate erosion and runoff, as nutrients in the soil can be carried into larger bodies of water.

For a simplified version, you can use a single bottle that one person holds at a slight angle over a tray. Hold it directly over the bottle, so you could see how much water flows through the "soil" as well as a tray by the outlet of the bottle to show run off. Then, prepare a bottle for several soil cover scenarios such as bare soil, woodland (leaves, sticks), grassland, in order to see the benefits of soil with organic matter compared to bare soil.

This uses a simple set of homemade models that mimic the real earth's ability - or inability - to allow infiltration of precipitation. Through hands-on experiences you will learn the ultimate fate of precipitation and how this can contribute to flooding, pollution, lack of biodiversity, and even structural damage. Sediment run-off is a natural process, but one that humans accelerate. This process jeopardizes our access to water as well as water quality, as once the topsoil is gone it can take between 200-1000 years for an inch of topsoil to reform naturally. The soil is no-longer usable once it gets carried away with water.

Farms and waterways are impacted by this event. Farms may experience a reduction in food yields, and waterways that are tainted can negatively impact the health of aquatic ecosystems, recreation, fisheries, and the quality of our downstream neighbors' drinking water.

Aquaponics provides a solution in a proactive way compared to conventional agriculture, because there is no runoff into the environment. We can also grow more food with less resources including using fish waste as organic-by-nature fertilizer.

For this activity, make sure to have parent supervision or a buddy to work alongside. For the full instructions in the pdf click here. You can also check out this video from Reese Hundley, our Technical Professional and Education Specialist.

Muckin' With Macros

Thanks to Cheryl Cheadle at BlueThumb, Brian Bovaird with Outdoor Classroom, as well as Project WET training for collaboration to create this activity.

This activity presents an opportunity for both kids and adults to explore local ecosystems, which they can grow to further appreciate and care about protecting for the future. Make sure to follow local fishing regulations, and parent supervision or permission is strongly encouraged.

All this activity requires is the ability to pick up rocks and carefully observe the creatures you find. Find a local creek and, with respect to the environment around you, the aquatic insects or macro invertebrates can be indicators of water quality and the health of the stream. This activity allows us to handle and learn that the little aquatic insects/macro invertebrates are not gross or harmful and they can tell us a lot about the state of our watersheds based on what they find.

Identify the creatures you find and document them here on this chart. The presence of various plants and animals (or lack thereof) will help you determine the health of the stream. Click for two documents of images of the macros (one seen below) you can search for, and an article to better direct your assessment of your local stream.

This is always a favorite activity, as it emphasizes the importance of connections and understanding the big picture of environmental health, particularly in streams and rivers. It helps us to become accustomed to the concept of plant and animal behavior, as in the aquaponic system environment. This hands-on investigation of real live benthic macro invertebrates (primarily larval aquatic insects) from a local stream allows you to note these these stream "bugs" (as we sometimes call them) as indicators of stream health, depending on which species are found, and in some cases, which species are not found.

The presence of certain plants and animals can tell us a lot about the quality of a growing environment, similar to monitoring fish behavior in an aquaponic system, and allow us to make better decisions for the environment.

In fact these management decisions are similar to decisions we make everyday around our home and how it affects others/wildlife such as picking up after pets and not mowing the grass super short and picking up trash that blows around every time we set out dumpsters for garbage pickup on a windy day.

It is important to treat all critters with kindness and to leave the creek better than you find it: carry a trash bag and take some trash home at the end of the activity to throw away.

This runoff model and the macro invertebrate component give a full-circle effect to the learning experience in aquaponics that will help students dive more deeply into understanding how the world works. It encourages systems thinking that will be of great benefit to students as they learn and grow and begin making their own decisions.

You can also check out this video here from the Texas Parks and Wildlife for more information and an example of this activity

We hope you continue to explore and learn more about the environment right around you, and as always, we are always here to help. Let’s ‘grow good together!

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