Castleton students learn life cycle of brook trout - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Castleton students learn life cycle of brook trout

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CASTLETON, Vt. - "The first thing is we feed the fish and they go to the bathroom and out comes ammonia, and then who consumes and eats the ammonia?"  Castleton teacher Guy Merrolle asks his sixth grade class.

It's a lesson in the care and life cycle of the brook trout, and the conditions necessary for the fish to live.  And they are living right here in Merrolle's classroom at the Castleton Village School. The trout eggs are visited, diagramed, and written about daily by the students, who also test the aquarium's water.

"I'm going to vote that probably 38 will survive," said sixth grader James Bruno.

Thirty-eight of 200 trout eggs, delivered here last month by Trout Unlimited.

"In nature it says that one-percent of the fish survive, but we're hoping to get more than that," said sixth grader Samantha Barker.

The trout eggs came from the state hatchery in Roxbury, through Trout Unlimited's educational program called Trout in the Classroom. It's in 20 schools across Vermont and here in Castleton for the first time.

"The hope is that the kids learn about ecosystems and especially about watersheds, and because we are raising brook trout, which are very sensitive, they quickly discover just how delicate the balance of nature is," said Trout Unlimited's Joe Mark.

Delicate indeed. In addition to specific levels of nitrate, nitrite and other chemical compounds, brook trout need a dark environment and particularly cold water in order to survive. "We know that you have to have cold water so it can store oxygen, since there's a lot of fish in there," Barker said.

"Well, what surprised me actually was about how much bacteria and how they need bacteria in order to complete all the cycles in order to survive," Bruno said.

All sixth through eighth grade students at the school participate in the hands on learning project. Teacher Merrolle says the model helps put "muscle memory" into what they're learning.  "I want them to know how important a healthy watershed is in order for them to be able to live there. What does it mean to be a healthy watershed and what kinds of things do humans do that might affect it in a positive or negative way for the long term sustainability of trout populations and other species in the river?" Merrolle said.

It's a continuation of their study of the Castleton River, which flows behind their school building.  In the spring, the students will gather out back to release the brook trout that they've cared for for five months. "They get very attached to the fish. They get to see them go from these tiny little eggs to these things that look almost look like fish that you could catch, and they become beautiful, so I think they come away from the program with a real environmental ethic in fact," Mark said.

Students will release the brook trout in May when their project comes full circle -- part of a unique collaboration between students, teachers, the state, and outdoor enthusiasts nationwide.

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