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NFC: The AAT article for FAMA...


Adopt A Tank

The NFC’s solution to boring science projects.


Robert Rice

robertrice at juno_com


All across the country they sit, neglected, dirty, stinky and unloved. Well-intentioned monuments to a project gone wrong. They remain, a haunting reminder of a failed project. Our failures should both embarrass us and challenge us. These piles of old aquarium supplies. Donated or purchased, they remain the bane of many a school, library and house mom. Instead of hiding them I have a solution. Turn them back into their original purpose as public teaching aquariums. Most of these tanks were originally set up to teach something. However due to poor planning, inexperience or just bad luck, the montage of goofy fish put in these tanks taught nothing except the limits of tolerance to swampy fish water.  When in fact they should have been teaching basic aquatic biology and dare I say it an occasional life history report of it’s inhabitants.


The first problem and biggest one is a lack of the basics of aquarium keeping. People falsely believe that some water and some gravel make a tank. It does not of course. To setup a teaching tank you need to have a plan. Then you need to stay the course. Many people do not know where to get started in the basics of aquarium setup. So we at the Native Fish Conservancy made on online booklet at the Adopt a Tank site. Visit it at our website address of http://www.nativefish.org/Kids/adoptatankstart.html. This information is free and is there to help anyone get started. The second problem most teaching tanks have, is using fish from a pet store instead of local species. I know that sounds backwards, but there is a method to my madness. You see often student leaders set up teaching tanks like display tanks. When in fact that was not their purpose. If you want to just show color, by all means hit the pet store .If you want to teach, then stay local. I hate to break the news to you, but fish from South America housed along with say an Asian species well they just interact weird. You are putting fish in a situation they would never see in the wild. A situation that produces really weird results. So not only have you spent money to get fish you now have fish that are poorly suited to any biology research. Which hopefully was the reason why you set up your tank to begin with.


You have decided to do a teaching tank. Now what? Well your choices are limited, but you do have some options and they are good ones. A cornucopia of odd colored international fishes is out. Your options are basically a single species tank; the proverbial tank of guppies (but don’t use guppies) comes to mind or a biotype tank. A biotype tank is a slice of a particular spot or watershed. For example the fishes and fauna of XYZ creek would be a good start. Yes I said the Fauna, who says a display tank need be limited to fish? Not me! Some of the more interesting tanks I have seen had crayfish, damselfly larvae and or caddis fly larvae as their main denizens. A bug tank is a great way to focus students on the importance of our lesser-known aquatic residents. For an example how about a survey of the insects in a polluted creek versus a cleaner one. You want to talk eye opening! The difference in diversity is tremendous. That in itself is enough to keep a class busy all semester. Once you decide what you want to try, take the class collecting and see what you get.


There are many approaches to taking the education of homegrown students using home water fauna. The key is you! You must have to have passion for getting out, and a greater passion for the wiggly things you will see in your collections and studies. If this getting out and finding things grosses you out might I work closely with an NFC mentor who will collect for you. Some of the better tanks have two specialist one the collector the other the educator. It seems to work.  Partnerships are a great to get the word out to teachers and student leaders lacking the time, inclination or skills to collect, but are however able to monitor the students as they take over care of the tanks inhabitants and the subsequent data keeping. The more closely you work with us the Native Fish Conservancy the more we can help


Don’t like bugs? The fishes of XYZ creek seem overwhelming? Might I suggest trying a life history of a single local fish species? Perhaps the red belly dace as an example. This Dace is a colorful fish that is easy to keep and breed but is very poorly documented. Even more unloved are the dozens of darter species. Most of them have no life history work done on them but are common in most of the eastern US. If your classroom committed it self to doing just one tank with a few residents and recording your results you would be building future biologists all the while helping your local fishes. It would be a simple project that would take all year. Scout out suitable collecting sites, check with the authorities to see what permits if any you need, collect the fish then spend the remainder of the year, rearing them raising them and hopefully breeding them. What a wonderful way to teach class. You would be making EVERY student more aware of just one species of fish. More knowledgeable than most college professors are. Imagine the impact in 3-4 years when these young dynamo’s hit the colleges armed with specific habitat needs of a local fish. I promise you that more than one city planner, developer or college professor will get just a bit uncomfortable on the day when 18 year old Mary Johnson stands up and explains in detail the needs of say the fantail darter and why the current textbook/zoning plan is inadequate too meet it’s needs or how textbook improperly identifies its life needs.


That sounds all well and good you say but lets be honest here. My budget is tight and well I’m no fish nut so Adopt A Tank is out for me. Au contrar we at the NFC say. You see we have a friend. We have a good friend who like us, loves kids and local stuff. Our friend has put his money where his mouth is. Our friend is Marineland Aquarium Products www.marineland.com. They make some of the finest filtration stuff out there, the emperor systems for example. Well they also make complete hood, light, acrylic tank and filter systems called the Eclipse system THESE TANKS ARE 12 GALLON MARVELS AND PERFECT FOR A SINGLE SPECIES TANK. So our friends at Marineland will supply either filters or eclipse setups to AAT members depending on their needs up to 100 setups total this year. So if you have an old tank needing a filter we can help. If you lack knowledge our NFC mentor can help. Our mentors who are local volunteers with skills in setting up teaching tanks or collecting will help you get started. Now we don’t have mentors enough to go around but where we have them we will be glad to share them. If you have nothing but a passion we can help too. You see it is more important that you care than it is that you know when starting out. If knowledge was all it took, well heck every kid could read a book about local species and be a conservationist. Sadly most do not do either. So in this case passion rules the day!


This program welcomes passionate community leaders willing to join an organized group with accountability built in. If you just want free stuff look somewhere else! This program is small with a limited budget and frankly we only want folks of a like mind. Folks who think local species matter. Folks who love what they are doing and are happy to share their results. Folks who don’t care about credit, they instead care about conservation. If so we want you! The equipment is here, the mentors are waiting all that is missing is you and your passion. Oh yes and If you have some old equipment please contact your local school and donate it, don’t throw it away.


Adopt a Tank is a way to light a passion for the small and unseen creatures in our world. The ultimate goal of any Adopt a Tank is the inspiring of a generation of passionate activists who act based on good science, not the politics of the day. A generation who will not sit ignorantly by as society bounces from one eco issue to another. A generation who, tempered by fieldwork, sees that ecosystems matter, politics don’t. A generation who will one day set policies that work for our fishes, our fauna and ourselves. In short a generation who cares about the bass and the bass fisherman, the cichlid and the aquarist. A generation grounded in truth, a truth earned in part through those early observations of an Adopt A Tank.


Until Next time good luck and good fishing!



Source and Contacts:


Native Fish Conservancy Adopt A Tank Program

3635 NW 68th Lane Gainesville Florida 32653

Membership is 10$ members may get equipment grants and mentoring. Anyone can get free info from the web site at www.nativefish.org

Email contact president at nativefish_org


The Adopt a Tank egroup on Yahoo: A place to get ideas share info and get inspired. We call it online mentoring. To subscribe send an email to Adoptatank-subscribe at yahoogroups_com


Marineland Products: www.marineland.com

Marineland is the main supplier of equipment for the AAT program members. Support them in your equipment purchases


Adopt A Stream Program: Many States Have Adopt a Stream Programs. Check with you local fisheries department.


New Hampshire’s Bass in the Class Program: Beth Reinhart

Aquatic Resource Education Specialist NH Fish and Game Dept.

2 Hazen Dr. Concord, NH 03301 (603) 271-3212 breinhart at wildlife_state.nh.us