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November 27, 2014

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Marine lab offers students one-of-a-kind learning environment

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Richard Brian

McDoniel elementary school fourth graders, from left, Jose Valencia, Amira Blake and David Varner look into a fish tank in the marine science lab at the school.

McDoniel's Marine Science Lab

A puffer fish swims in a tank at the marine science lab at McDoniel Elementary School. Launch slideshow »

Not everyone can say they spent their days in elementary school science class surrounded by dog-faced puffer fish, white spotted bamboo sharks and snowflake eels.

The students at Estes McDoniel Elementary School can.

McDoniel is home to a marine science lab that houses exotic sea life and allows the fifth grade students to show children from other schools about the different species.

Fifth graders are allowed to study to become tour guides, and on Dec. 10 a few gave lessons to second graders visiting from Harmon Elementary School.

"Most of the students that come here have never seen these kinds of species before," science teacher Kim Adams said. "Many of them don't have the opportunities to see them anywhere else."

PTA member and program leader Leslie Whitehead asked the Harmon students if they knew what would happen if they touched the poisonous sea urchin living in one of the tanks.

"You'll die!" was the response from one of the second graders.

Being stung by that particular sea urchin will not cause death, but it will result in swelling and a burning, stinging sensation, the students were told.

The tour guides do not remove the urchin from the tank. They do, however, take out the chocolate chip starfish and sea cucumbers to show to visiting students.

Tour guide Noah Whitehead explained to his table of students why the starfish has its name.

"The little spines on their backs, they aren't sharp, they look like chocolate chips," he said.

The students were allowed to touch the starfish and cucumbers after being instructed to wash their hands without soap, just water.

Tour guide Zachary Mahoney said the students at McDoniel are lucky to have the marine lab.

"We know it is very unique," tour guide Eve Wellish said.

PTA fundraising money and grants provide for the maintenance of the lab and the addition of different organisms.

Most of the species are ordered through the mail but some are donated.

The sharks were donated by Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. When the sharks become to big for the tank at McDoniel they will be given back to Mandalay Bay and replaced with younger, smaller ones.

The different tanks in the room are designed to teach the students about marine life and behaviors.

The sharks have their own tank.

There is an aggressive tank that houses the snowflake eel, the dog-faced puffer fish and a toad fish.

"Aggressive doesn't mean bad, it just means that is their personality," Leslie Whitehead told the Harmon students.

Harmon second grader Jonathan Aguilera was nervous about touching some of the starfish. "They might be poisonous," he said.

Diana Cox can be reached at 990-8183 or [email protected].

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