Photos and videos: See what other Vermont TIC trout look like and what your colleagues are up to! And ammonia!!
Here are a couple of short videos that show you what some of the trout are looking like. Mt. Abe's Samantha Kayhart shot the first one, the better of the two. I shot the second in Guy Merolle's Castleton Village School classroom. In both cases, the fish look terrific.
Here's some of the beautiful artwork produced by Lisa Marks's 3rd graders at Ludlow Elementary School. Lisa has sent the complete set of student drawings to a publisher, who will turn it into a hard-cover book, copies of which will be given to two volunteers, the school library, and Okemo Community Challenge, whose financial support made the program possible.
I saw these wonderful pieces while visiting Ludlow's students last Friday. Lisa had invited me because her students had more than 28 questions they wanted to ask me! For almost an hour, I did my best to field the students' often very thoughtful questions. Then we teleconferenced with "The Big Guy." Chuck Dinkel, Maryland TIC coordinator, who had agreed to allow me to call him--in California while he was visiting his 99-year-old mother!--so that the LES students could ask him the questions I couldn't answer. For the next 35 minutes, Chuck was wonderfully informative, encouraging, and humorous.
Here's a photo of the LES students, community volunteer Kathy Ehlers (in stripes), and me (in the orange TU hat).
But on that visit, there was also some important work to do. Lisa's tank had for over a week been running ammonia levels of 4 ppm. None of us have been able to understand why that's gone on for so long and, especially, why her nitrite readings were still at zero. One of the concerns was that this may be due to the large amount of light-brown debris that was accumulating on intake surfaces and especially apparent when anyone siphoned the gravel. At first we thought it was algae.
To the upper right you can see what it looks like. Gross, huh?
Chuck looked at this picture and sent it to a biologist at the Maryland hatchery. He suggested that I do the same; so I sent it to Jeremy Whalen in Roxbury. Jeremy said:
The light brown stuff is bacteria/fungus growing from the uneaten feed, most likely it's getting caught in that filter and using it as growing media. Given the higher protein levels in starter feed, it's fairly common; just do the best you can to remove it. It wouldn't even hurt to pull the filter off and wash it in the sink (short shut-downs for that if necessary won't hurt). Just do it first thing in the morning before first feeding. That could also be contributing to the higher ammonia levels as well. If the fish are eating well and growing, there is less concern with the ammonia levels. The time to start worrying is when they stop feeding. I think she's on the right track by reducing feed levels.
The Maryland fisheries biologist said something similar, so we relaxed because it seemed that we had the scientists at our back.
On the left you can see the recent test indicating ammonia of 4 ppm, but on the right is a photo, taken 4/3/16, of Lisa's healthy-looking fish. The video below confirms that as well.
Lisa's pH had been registering 7.6, the top of the regular pH test scale, so I suggested that she do the high-range pH test. She did that, and it turned out to be 8.4!
There are two thorny questions imbedded in the details of what's going on at Ludlow:
Why are their fish not dead?
This is a baffling question. We know ammonia is supposed to be bad for trout. And the latest science we've received (see "Article about relationship among ammonia, pH, and temperature" in the Water Chemistry & Trout Health collection), tells us that Lisa's tank conditions should be near-lethal for the fish.
At the Ludlow tank temperature (52 degrees F or 11.1 degrees C) and with their pH of 8.4, a minuscule TAN (total ammonia nitrogen) reading of 0.4 should be toxic for trout; yet they appear healthy! (Remember TAN, which our test kits measure, is a combination of the toxic ammonia and the benign ammonium.)
I can't explain why Lisa's fish are doing so well under these circumstances. Perhaps it's because Lisa and her students love them so much. (Just kidding! But they do.)
Why is nitrite not rising?
The answer may have to do with their filter configuration. Guidelines for filter set-up have changed. We used to use two containers of Chemi-Pure, now we recommend four. But the equipment list in circulation in the fall still called for only two containers, so Lisa and Kathy improvised. They used a zip-tie to divide each bag in two and hung it, like a saddlebag, over the plastic divider between the two of the compartments of each basket. (I did something similar at several schools I assisted except that rather than keeping the two half-bags connected, I used two zip-ties, cut the bags apart, and set them down of the floor of the compartment.) It may be that, suspended over the plastic dividers as they have been, Lisa's Chemi-Pure has not had enough water flow to allow nitrifying bacteria to develop adequately.
Over the weekend, Lisa bought more Chemi-Pure, and on yesterday, she and Kathy added it to their filter. Let's see if that helps!
If this works and nitrite starts to rise (it will probably take a while for the bacteria to get established in the Chemi-Pure), you'll hear a deafening, happy cheer from one Ludlow Elementary School classroom!
This is exciting work, isn't it?
Joe Mark, Lead Facilitator, Vermont Trout in the Classroom
In June 2012, I retired after 40 years in higher education, having spent the last 32 years of my career as dean at Castleton. One of the first things I volunteered to do in retirement was to work with Jim Mirenda to help the Dorset School, where his kids and my Vermont grandkids attend, start a TIC program. Gradually that commitment grew into my current role, which is both demanding and highly rewarding.