Sad news from Ludlow!
Over the last week, all of Ludlow Elementary School's alevin died. I was visiting my daughter and her family in Bethesda, Maryland, (more about that later) when 3rd grade teacher Lisa Marks began to send text messages expressing her profound worry about persistently high levels of nitrite (5 ppm). This was strange because her ammonia hardly got above zero and was never higher than 0.25 ppm. (This is Lisa's second TIC year, and, having been very successful last year, she was doing everything just the same as she did previously.)
Lisa's fish looked bad and eventually began to died in large numbers.
On Thursday, she was down to five fish. By the time students returned to school today, they were all gone. Very tragic!
I had a lot of contact with Maryland TIC coordinator Chuck Dinkel while this tragedy was unfolding and since. We are all baffled that Lisa's nitrite was so high even though her ammonia wasn't high at all. There was a point several weeks ago when Lisa noticed black slime on her breeder basket. She cleaned it of course, but we are now wondering whether the slime may have caused the problem that her tank experienced.
Tomorrow afternoon, Chuck, Lisa, and I are scheduled for a conference call. We will try to get to the bottom of this mystery!
One suggestion that Chuck had is that in a similar situation, we may want to use something called Amquel Plus, a product designed "to neutralize ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, chlorine and chloramines."
Years ago this water additive was a standard part of the Maryland TIC kit but was dropped once Special Blend and Nite-Out II began to be used. Chuck believes that the problem with Amquel Plus is not its use but its overuse. If used when the tank isn't really in crisis, it can interfere with the natural and highly desirable nitrogen cycle. But if in the future another Vermont tank behaved like Lisa's did, with persistently high nitrite levels and fish that looked severely stressed, I would certainly advise treating the water with Amquel Plus.
After our conference call, we'll decide how to move forward. Already three southwestern Vermont schools have volunteered to donate fry to Lisa's class, and Tom Jones, of the Fish and Wildlife Department, has approved the transfers.
They're swimming up all over the state! But at what DI??
Here are excerpts from three e-mails I received this morning.
Jason Gragen, of NewBrook School, sent this report.
Our brookies started to feed on Thursday, February 23. Although we were on school break, I checked on them every day of the vacation because I figured they would be approaching the swim-up stage.
The ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels in the tank are currently looking good. We're running at 51.8 degrees.
I got this from Rutland Town School's Brian Crane.
My little ones did well over the weekend. It looks like I have two pinheads and a couple of deformities that are hanging on. They are crazy active and some have got caught on the net jumping up. Almost all have swum up now. Should I drop the basket this week? I get it's a long way for them. Maybe I could put a second basket in too. Its crazy how fast this happens!
Here was the answer I sent Brian:
I wouldn't drop the basket yet. As you say, it's a long way, 21" in a 55-gallon tank, from the bottom to the surface. I'd keep them in the breeder basket for another couple of weeks to fatten them up before releasing them into the tank.
When they get ready to release the trout, some teachers tip the basket and leave it at an angle. That way those that want to swim out of the basket can and those who want to stay behind for another few days can as well.
Make sure your filter intake is covered with netting or mesh.
And Audrey Halpern, community volunteer at the Albert Bridge School, provided this update.
Our trout tank is doing well we seem to have made our way through the high nitrite part of the nitrogen cycle (5 ppm) and our nitrates are rising with falling nitrites.
Our swim-up occurred last week during the vacation week, which meant a lot of school visits, but that was okay. Our DI was only at 90.43 when we had 25% swim up. We had about 100% feeding three days later at 94.41 DI. So our calculations to have swim-up happen this week when we were back at school didn’t quite work out. I did have the warning of the disappearing yolk sac, so I thought we were probably ahead of the calculated DI.
The fry are active and happy in their increased light levels.
We do have quite a number of escapees that are loose in the tank because they got over the edge of the breeder baskets. I can’t decide how often to chase them with the net to put them back so they get more feed. I have to admire their spirit. It keeps it interesting.
So what was the DI when your fish swam up?
I think we're finding that our brook trout develop faster than the chart we've been using would indicate. Several schools have reported that their fish began to swim up, not at 100% DI, but when the alevin reached a DI of 90 or so. The chart we've been using to estimate how much each "degree day" contributes to a trout's development was provided by Roxbury fish hatchery supervisor Jeremy Whalen, and it's fairly old. In fact, Jeremy isn't sure which trout species it was developed for, so it would be extremely helpful if many more teachers can provide the kind of report that Audrey did.
Visiting a Maryland TIC classroom
As I mentioned above, while in Bethesda, Maryland, last week to spend 10 days with my younger daughter and her family, I made contact with three 6th grade teachers who are doing TIC at North Bethesda Middle School. Given that the school is within walking distance of my daughter's home, I couldn't resist asking if I could pop in to see their TIC work.
NBMS is a highly regarded, rapidly growing school of 1,200 students in Montgomery County, Maryland. TIC is pursued there by three 6th grade teachers: Eric Elmer, Maria Lutchenkov, and Susan Martin. I arranged to visit Eric's class shortly before some of his students were about to perform the daily tank inspection and water testing.
Eric and his two colleagues collaboratively use one tank that is set up in the hallway outside their rooms. They and other Maryland schools raise rainbow trout, and NBMS, like other schools in their state, keeps its tank at approximately 54 degrees. Here's a photo of their tank.
One of the first things I noticed when I reached the corridor where Eric's classroom is located was the beautiful mural that covered the window behind the tank. I learned that an art class painted the very large piece of blue paper that was probably 6' high and 16' long. Students first drew various decorative elements above and below the waterline: hills, trees, seaweed, etc. Then they cut out and colored fish, ducks, and other creatures, which were then pasted on in appropriate locations. The whole mural is also functional in that it screened the tank from daylight.
I also got to observe the tank inspection and water testing process. The team assigned to do the testing was under the direction of a girl who had had a bit more training than the other students. (Normally two student leaders direct each day's activities, but one of the student leaders was absent the day I visited.) The 6th graders are trained by 8th graders who did TIC two years ago. The students seemed both very competent and quite focussed in their work.
Here's the water testing team in action.
As I was about to leave the classroom, I noticed a collection of fishing rods in the corner. Obviously, as part of their TIC activities, NBMS students are also given the opportunity to learn how to cast and fish. Lucky them!
It was fun to see what a TIC program looks like in another state.
How's everybody doing? Nitrite concern. What a difference a few--well, ten--degrees makes! New photos. ECHO Center competition.
Lots of teachers are reporting increases in nitrite, with some even seeing their nitrate go up. Fortunately, everyone I've heard from--I always worry about the programs I haven't heard from--is saying that the trout still look good. The evidence of the appearance and behavior of the fish may be the most important indicator we have of overall tank health.
Ten days ago, John Cioffi, at St. Albans City Schools, found his nitrite was up to 1 ppm. On February 15, Rich Carter, of The Greenwood School, reported a nitrite level of 5 ppm as well as a nitrate level of 5 ppm. He had lost 11 fish so far and said his fish looked "full of life and active."
Then yesterday, Sabrina McDonough, of Shrewsbury Mountain School, reported that her nitrite had gone up to 5 ppm. She too described that, "The alevin are still active and seem healthy."
I am not worried about these descriptions. I think what we're seeing is a normal part of the nitrogen cycle. Especially in Rich's case, where the nitrate has also begun to rise, it sounds like the nitrogen cycle is progressing normally. If all goes well, Rich's nitrite should soon start to drop, and--fingers crossed--Sabrina's nitrate will begin to go up.
In these cases, we might want to add extra Nite-Out II, but it's best not to change water yet AS LONG AS THE FISH STILL LOOK AND SEEM HEALTHY.
Temperature matters--a lot!
South Burlington has two TIC tanks. This gives them the opportunity to do some neat experiments. In the video below you can see a big difference in the stages of development of (a) alevin raised at 46 degrees and (b) fry raised at 56 degrees. As you can notice, the fry in the warmer water are already feeding.
Danielle Fagan, of Proctor Elementary School, sent these pictures.
And here's a picture Sabrina McDonough sent me on 2/19 of her alevin/fry up and down the water column. I told her I thought they looked like they were ready to eat!
World Water Day Competition
The ECHO Center on Lake Champlain will host a World Water Day celebration on the afternoon of March 22. The timing of the event (4:30 to 6:30) won't allow it to serve as a field trip, but perhaps some of your students will want to get an adult to take them.
In anticipation of that event, the Lake Champlain Basin Program, which has funded nine of this year's new TIC programs, will be holding a competition in four categories:
Some neat prizes will be awarded to winners.
Below is a link to the full-size poster with additional information.
As swim-up approaches. Genetic mutations! Salmon eggs? Quilt project underway. More great photos and blogs.
For some, swim-up starts already!
Bob Wible told me last Thursday that he expected that the alevin of at least one of his tanks was going to hit the "swim-up" stage tomorrow (February 8). Here's what he said:
Hi Joe, I have a tank at the South Burlington high school sitting at 56 degrees. A few alevin are giving swim up indications and will probably start feeding early next week. Very exciting.
In a separate e-mail, Bob told me that he believes the DI at SBHS will be 100.12 tomorrow. As far as I'm aware, very few other schools have kept their tanks that warm, so most of you are probably several days if not several weeks from the "swim-up" stage. Nevertheless, it will likely be the most important next development to arise, so let's talk about what you need to do to be ready for it.
For the rest of you
As your Cumulative DI approaches 95, you should remove the front and top foam insulation (this will help stimulate the swim-up instinct), and you need to become very attentive. Look for evidence of alevin swimming to the surface. (You may want to revisit the above-mentioned "Idaho TIC document.") Alevin require careful monitoring at this stage and should be inspected several times every day, including weekends and school breaks. If some fry start swimming up, provide the tiniest pinch of food. Remove whatever is not eaten after ten minutes. When fry have begun eating reliably, you can feed them as often as five times a day, but always just the tiniest pinch.
Spotting when alevin/fry are swimming up to the degree that they should be fed isn't easy for those still fairly new to TIC. Here's a technical bulletin from the TroutLodge hatchery, which provides eggs for the Maryland TIC program, and here's some advice (from Marshall Brown, a Maryland hatchery biologist) that Chuck Dinkel shares with the Maryland teachers.
It’s my experience that small percentages of fish will begin to swim up continuously over a period of 3-5 days regardless of the tank being used for culturing. I begin to supplement feeding when approximately 25% are up [emphasis added] and gradually increase feed amount as the percentage increases.
Below is an image from the Idaho TIC program that helps teachers tell when their alevin might be ready to "swim up." Here is a link to an 8.5" X 11" version of that document that will be easier to read.
And don't let the bottom of the net breeder get too dirty! (More on this later.)
Genetic mutations at three schools
Every year a certain number of eggs will produce abnormal alevin. So far this year year three schools have sent me pictures of their genetic mutations. I've inserted their pictures below. It would be interesting to have students research how often genetic notations like these occur in trout and other fish species. How often do they occur in humans?
Sixty-eight of our 70 tanks this year are raising brook trout. The other four, all located in northern Vermont, are raising landlocked Atlantic salmon. SIC is actually quite different from TIC in a number of ways, and that starts with the appearance of the eggs. Chris Murphy, of North Country Union High School, sent me these two photos of his class's salmon eggs. Look carefully to spot the lone hatchling in the lower photo.
Here's what he said:
Hey there Joe,
One thing that I noticed when reading your blog was the amazing difference in appearance between the brook trout eggs and the landlocked salmon eggs. I included some pictures of our salmon eggs that shows the color difference. One picture has our first hatched alevin, it stands out amongst the unhatched eggs - I thought it was a neat shot. I'll be sending more pictures as time goes on!
TIC national quilt project underway
Yesterday, Tara Granke, national TIC coordinator for Trout Unlimited, sent me the list of the 46 schools across the country that signed up to participate in this year's quilt project. I was pleased to find the following eight Vermont schools on that list:
Founders School TIC blog
I know that many teachers are use the Internet or Google resources to publish and share your TIC work with parents and other members of the school community. See especially the student blog comments.
Here's a link to the TIC blog of Founders School:
St. Albans City Elementary Web page
And here's a link to John Cioffi's St. Albans City Elementary School TIC Web page.
Great close-up shots
Here are four close-up photos sent in by Danielle Levine at Schoolhouse Learning Center. They were taken by one of Danielle's 4th graders.
Keep up the great work!!
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.