NEWBURYPORT -- Erin Hobbs, a biology and environmental science teacher at Newburyport High School, has recently brought new excitement to her classes with the introduction of an aquaponics system.
In her second year at NHS, Hobbs was eager to spice up the curriculum for her science students after taking part in a place-based education training program led by the Gulf of Maine Institute (GOMI). The Gulf of Maine Institute was founded by John Terry. John Halloran, a former science educator in Newburyport Public Schools, leads the Newburyport GOMI team.
Having spent her undergraduate years studying marine biology and her later years conducting research on shrimp in the Gulf of Maine, Hobbs decided to apply to the Newburyport Education Foundation (NEF) Business Coalition for grant money to fund a sustainable food production system consisting of fish and plants. Known as aquaponics, the practice combines aquaculture (the farming of aquatic organisms) and hydroponics (the cultivation of plants in water). Aquaponics is a way for people around the world to sustainably produce food for them and find work. Aquaponics systems take advantage of the nitrogen cycle, which is a crucial component of the biology and environmental science curricula.
Thanks to the grant awarded by the NEF Business Coalition, Hobbs set out to build the system. Her freshman biology students volunteered after school to help construct the system, which consists of a 100 gallon tank for fish and two grow-out beds filled with clay pellets for plants. Chard, basil, bok choy, and lettuce are among the plants growing, all without the use of added chemicals or pesticides. The fish (32 tilapia) in the tank release ammonia, which is converted into nitrates and nitrites by bacteria. The plants in the grow-out beds then absorb the nitrites and nitrates from the tank, and the cycle continues. As a result, they produce no nutrient-rich effluent that can damage aquatic ecosystems.