Bellevue H.S. Marine Science Lab Expands

The first (of three) coral study and propagation systems before it was filled with saltwater during setup.

The first (of three) coral study and propagation systems before it was filled with saltwater during setup.

Last year I introduced you to David Bowers and the incredible marine science classroom laboratory he runs at Bellevue High School in Ohio, USA. Over the last 20 years, David and his students have transformed the humble classroom from a single modest aquarium to one of the best self-funded high school marine biology programs in the country. The classroom laboratory at this rural northern Ohio school features a 412-gallon mixed reef, 420-gallon bamboo shark research study tank, 250-gallon seahorse breeding study tank, several smaller student research project systems, and three new (not so small) additions.

The new system(s)

The three aforementioned additions are 8’ x 2’ custom-built (by Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems) tanks that will be used for coral growth studies and propagation. These tanks (and tons of support equipment: sump, skimmer, heater, T-5 lights, return pump, circulation pumps, frag plugs, super glue, shipping bags/cups, and more) were generously donated by Rob McCoy of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Rob had been following the marine science club on Facebook and reached out with the thought that David and his students might be able to make use of this equipment.

Currently, one of the systems is up and running with a few corals calling it home. David is now searching for branching Acropora or related SPS coral colonies, encrusting and plating corals, and LPS corals (particularly Fungia, Trachyphyllia, and Favidae). The remaining two systems will be brought online as additional propagation and research space are needed.

David has great plans for the new coral systems and is confident they’ll serve three equally important purposes for the lab and his students:

  1. Restocking the 412-gallon mixed reef, which was decimated last summer when the school’s air-conditioning system failed and was down for an extended period of time. As the reef sits at the entrance to the lab, it serves as a great greeting and results in questions and interest from students not yet involved in the marine biology program.
  2. Sizable vessel for student experiments related to coral growth and propagation.
  3. Better supporting the classroom lab, which is self-funded (aside from generous donations) through sales of coral fragments at three of Ohio’s coral swaps held each year. It is the hope that this will help them generate enough funding to support projects without having to ask for help from outside sources.
The first new coral system filled up and illuminated!

The first new coral system filled up and illuminated!

These three systems will allow us to propagate corals at a rate unprecedented in our history. Careful marketing and planning will allow us to sell off fragments, earn a modest profit, and continue our mission of creating citizen scientists.” -David Bowers.

Lots of student opportunities

In the classroom lab, the students have established three tiers of participation. Tier-one students are beginners who receive training and guidance related to daily operation of the lab. They also serve as assistants to the upperclassmen, which allows them to learn the mechanics of the classroom while nurturing a scientist mentality.

Tier-two students are enrolled in the marine biology course and are involved in studies David initiates. As an example, these students may create a grouping of identical coral propagates and then study the effects varying pH ranges on growth rates and bleaching.

The third tier is students selected by David based on their academic abilities and interest in conducting independent studies. These individual students (or groups of students) select a topic of interest, seek out important unanswered questions regarding said topic, and then conduct research in a quest for real-world answers. In addition to their own studies, tier-three students mentor developing students, tutor marine biology students, and fill the role of lab managers.

David and his students are quite proud of the program (as they should be!) and it’s many accomplishments. The most noteworthy of these achievements include:

  • Discovery of a previously unknown stress hormone in sharks
  • Successful breeding of the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus)
  • Successful breeding of Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)
  • Raising and propagating various species of stony corals

These students leave David’s program four years later as stewards of the oceans. At the least, they’ve learned how important the oceans are to our daily lives. At the most, they leave with such passion for the oceans that they choose to pursue a career in marine biology. In fact, nearly every third-tier student receives scholarship offers, including full rides to notable institutions such as the University of Hawaii, and one was honored with an invitation to the United States Naval Academy.

Support comes in many shapes and sizes

Aside from the ongoing support by their local fish store (Salty Critter), David and his students are recipients of great donations from businesses and hobbyists near and far, the latest being the coral systems from Roy McCoy, as well as coral from Jeff Howard at Lincoln Village Reef in Columbus, Ohio.

Over the years, the generosity of this hobby has contributed to David and his students countless times, and they’re immensely grateful for it! If you, or your business, are interested in supporting the Bellevue High School marine science classroom lab, please reach out to David via their Facebook page or send us a message and we’ll put you in touch with him.

Photo credits: David Bowers

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About "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich

"Caribbean Chris" Aldrich is co-founder and Director of Saltwater Smarts, an avid SCUBA diver, and contributor to a live rock mariculture project in the Florida Keys. He has been an aquarium hobbyist for 20 years and his current aquarium is a 127-gallon Carib reef biotope.

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