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Back to Schools of Fish!

By Paul Anderson, PhD, CAPM, Research Scientist

Fall is in the air, schools are full of kids, and tanks are full of fish. In the Joint Aquaculture Research Laboratory (JARLab) at the Marine Science Magnet High School (MSMHS), the school’s Director of Aquaculture Eric Litvinoff and I have engaged two new student research assistants this year to help us fulfill the lab’s two-fold mission: 1) To research and develop aquaculture techniques that can be adopted by the marine aquarium industry; and 2) To educate and inspire an up-and-coming trained professional workforce to enter the marine aquarium/aquaculture industry.

We are in pursuit of these goals to help the marine aquarium trade build upon its endeavor to inspire kids to learn about, respect and nurture ocean environments through aquarium keeping by improving practices that respect and conserve fragile coral reef ecosystems.

MSMHS Seniors John Wronowski and Allyssa McIlquham, who have been trained in aquarium husbandry and aquaculture during their coursework, now have the opportunity to apply their training to genuine aquaculture research to benefit the marine aquarium trade.

“The JARlab is a unique experience and particularly useful for a student like me with an intended major in the sciences,” said John-Paul. “I am honored to be a part of a real scientific research project and to continue to do useful and innovative work with Mystic Aquarium.”

This year, the project team is conducting a feed validation study. The marine aquarium trade is flush with a dizzying array of commercial feeds available for fishes. However, the effects that these feeds have on fish health, growth and aquaculture success are largely unstudied; what we know comes mostly from anecdotal experience and customer reviews. The JARlab is offering a feed validation study to the fish food manufacturing sector of the industry to produce data to verify claims, boost sales and increase aquaculture production. As a result of this important study, manufacturers will be able to provide customers the assurance that the product they are offering has been validated by a nationally recognized and trusted organization, like Mystic Aquarium.

“I am very excited to be a Student Research Assistant for the MSMHS and Mystic Aquarium Partnership that has been around since 2014,” said Allyssa. “The internship has taught me how to care for aquatic organisms and the importance of responsibility in a lab setting. I look forward to the research I will be a part of and I can’t wait to learn and grow as an individual throughout the entire process.”

In the lab, this provides John-Paul and Allyssa great opportunities to hone their skills in feeding techniques, aquarium maintenance, water quality testing and aquaculture of all kinds: algae, zooplankton, larval fish culture and broodstock fish conditioning. Their engagement in the research positions them well to be competitive candidates for a college program or employment in the sciences.

In addition to the engagement of John-Paul and Allyssa, Mr. Litvinoff will train the students of his Aquatic Husbandry and Advanced Aquarium Research Honors courses in the research methods used in the JARLab.

“As our partnership grows, we are constantly looking for innovative ways to include more students in the research and give them a chance to build their research skills,” said Litvinoff. “With the start of our partnership’s new Feed Validation Study, there is a huge opportunity to give more students a hands-on research experience. MSMHS will be mirroring the study and protocols by growing and conditioning our own clownfish. Students will work hands-on with the fish, condition the brood stock, collect eggs and raise larvae through metamorphosis. We are confident that these experiences will inspire our students to be stewards of the ocean and motivate them to have a positive impact on their local environment.”

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