Sustainable school

Smithton High School’s Grade 9/10 Applied Science teacher Sarah Prior with past student Callum Poke and Applied Science students Lize Van Lulof, Abbie Davison, Cassie Keogh, Kali Cooper and Lochleland Miller with the school’s aquaponics system. Picture: Ashleigh Force. 

Aquaculture. Smithton High School values environmentally sustainable practices and hopes to continue along this path with the help of an aquaponics system.

When past students Callum Poke and Jarod Elphinstone were introduced to national initiative, Philmac Project’s grant scheme, the boys brainstormed water-based ideas that would benefit their school, coming up with a water-recycling system.

After thorough research and planning, their idea earned the school a $1000 grant.

“The planning went from there, and we put together the system over the summer,” Callum said.

Both graduating high school last year, they were unable to see their project come to fruition, but fortunately the class to follow vowed to continue their vision.

The system is essentially made up of an intermediate bulk container, used as a fish tank, and a water pump. The system recycles water from the fish tank, through a pipeline feeding the above garden bed – where mint, parsley and pansies are growing – with nutrients.

Grade 9/10 Applied Science teacher Sarah Prior has been overseeing the project with the class.

“It’s a living lab – it’s awesome!” she said. “The cycle of nutrients is fundamental in science and this is a way the students can be hands-on with the topic.”

Students work with the system during class, as well as feeding the fish and measuring and recording nitrate, ammonia, general hardness of water (GH) and carbonate hardness (KH) levels daily.

Keeping the levels around a neutral PH of seven is not an easy task however, as student Locheland Miller explained: “GH and KH coexist, the higher the GH and KH the higher the PH will be.”

The class has faced and overcome several scientific hurdles in the past 12 months, with algae outbreaks and sunlight issues as well as water flow consistency.

“Goldfish are resilient but don’t like light,” Locheland said. “And with too much sunlight other plants will take advantage, like algae.”

With further research and planning, the students combatted theses problems with a shade cloth – allowing the fish to feel less threatened and the bacterial problem to cease – and adjusting the suction of the water pump.

Mrs Prior said the school hopes to continue the project indefinitely.

“It can be used in a lot of ways, incorporated in and out of the classroom with the students.”

Callum agreed it was good to see the project flourish and provide a positive learning outlet. “It’s great to see up and running!”

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