An Ocean’s worth of learning
Elcho fourth graders get hands-on look at the LiveAquaria Aquaculture Coral & Aquatic Life Facility
SPECIAL TO THE STAR JOURNAL
When students from Elcho Elementary School stepped into the LiveAquaria Aquaculture Coral & Aquatic Life Facility in Rhinelander, they stepped into a kaleidoscope of color.
Fins flashed with orange and blue. Coral shone neon green and glowed a bright purple. Reds, yellows, pinks, and whites painted with life the otherwise subdued facility.
Only moments through the door, shouts of “Dory” and “Nemo” rang out in squeaky sopranos and tenors as the students caught site of the familiar clownfish and Pacific Blue Tang.
The students split up into groups and waited to begin the tour. For them, it was a chance to get up close and personal with some exotic ocean wildlife they’d never seen before, but for LiveAquaria Director Kevin Kohen, it was an opportunity to introduce the kids to the animals and plant life he’s dedicated his life to learning about.
“At this age, the kids don’t know a lot about the ocean or know a lot about conservation, so we try to give them that one-one-one, hands-on experience. We want to have them engage with our staff and the animals, especially.”
Kohen and his staff set up three stations where the students learned about different areas of the Aquaculture Coral & Aquatic Life Facility. The first focused on invertebrates found near an ocean’s shoreline. Sea urchins were featured, and the kids enjoyed turning the sea stars over in their hands to discover the hundreds of tube-like feet underneath, which resulted in no shortage of gasps and wows.
“I loved the sea stars,” said Lauren Genske, one of the Elcho students on the trip. “They’re really cool.”
From there, the students rotated to the next station, where they learned what exactly a coral is.
“There are many different types of corals, and they handled hard corals and soft corals,” Kohen said. “We explained how corals need sunlight for food, and that they’re actually an animal with a simple digestive system. They saw and touched the bright corals, and learned how some are slimy and soft, while others are hard and spiky.”
In the third station, the kids interacted with a number of different kinds of fish from around the world, but the showstopper had to be the seahorses. The kids dipped their hands in a bin and watched with smiles as the creatures wrapped their tails around the kids’ fingers. This is where Kohen pays special attention.
“I always stand back and try to really watch,” he said. “You’ll see a couple of kids where their eyes get real wide. You know he or she is going to be a future aquarist, or excel in biology and chemistry. That’s when we’ve made it. We’re trying to make that connection between oceans, coral reefs, and kids here in the Northwoods that maybe have never had the chance to experience that. It’s pretty cool to see.”
After each group had spent some time at each station, the trip concluded with a scavenger hunt that had the kids peering through tanks and scouring over sunken coral to find the piece that matched their cards.
Mason Spray, another of the students on the trip, said he had a blast working on filling up his scavenger hunt card at the end of the day.
“I really liked the scavenger hunt,” he said. “They let us see a lot of different fish and feel the coral. I really liked the freshwater Glofish because they’re so bright.”
With the scavenger hunts completed, the students piled back on the bus and left for home, their trip “under the sea” at a close, but Kohen hopes some seeds of interest have been sewn among the Northwoods youth that may lead to a career in the conservation of the world’s oceans and its wildlife.
He also encourages other area schools to schedule a trip to the Aquaculture Coral & Aquatic Life Facility. There will also be an open house for the public on August 5. Please visit LiveAquaria.com to learn more and to make your reservation.