Aquarium, pond give students glimpse at unique environments

Published 6:31 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Niles Daily Star
NILES -- George Walker, a behavioral specialist at Ring Lardner Middle School, doesn't have to go scuba-diving or visit an aquarium to see a coral reef.
Neither do any of the middle school's students.
In a highly-visible corner inside the school's reception stands a 35-gallon water tank that contains colorful soft and hard coral, as well as two tropical fish -- one bright yellow, the other sharp blue.
But the coral reef aquarium isn't the only unique aquatic bio-type at Ring Lardner.
A smaller, thickly planted water tank containing Amazon sword plants and other aquarium plants, as well as a small school of fish, is located in the school's library.
And, a garden-size fish pond is to be found in the school's solarium, where numerous different plants grow throughout the year.
The fish pond is maintained by students in Maureen O'Hara's class.
They clean the pond's fountain, maintain the pump that drives it, and take care of the plants that grow in the solarium.
But Walker, who is originally from Jamaica, is responsible for the upkeep of the coral reef.
He thinks the school is in a unique position to be able to provide the three different natural environments to the enjoyment of students and staff.
Although Walker is responsible for the coral reef, he said on occasion students help him feed the fish in the coral tank as part of their life science studies.
An avid aquarium hobbyist, Walker said most coral and tropical fish seen in aquariums, come from the Indo-Pacific region and are shipped out from ports in southeast Asia, such as Singapore.
And, although many people are against the collecting of coral for private tanks -- coral reefs around the world are threatened by pollution and exploitation -- Walker said corals, if given the correct environment, spread and grow even in a tank.
Walker also thinks corals are an important resource in the search for cures against disease.
He said scientists at John Hopkins University are currently doing a study on coral that they hope will find a cure for cancer.
But it costs money to maintain three aquatic bio-types.
Which is also why O'Hara is applying for a $500 grant for replacement of the lining of the pond in the solarium.
She hopes to go from a soft to hard-shell pond with ledges for the plants, which means more plants can be added to the environment surrounding the pond.
Her students, however, aren't the only ones to make use of the pond.
O'Hara said all science classes use the pond for their studies. The solarium is also used by members of the community as a place to store plants over the winter.
During the winter months, the solarium is filled with cactus, water lilies, palm trees and, amongst other plants, a whole variety of rhododendrons, O'Hara said.