Friday, May 21, 2010

Salt Water Aquarium Hobby As a Window into Science Education

I was talking with a visitor at the aquarium a few days ago and he started asking me about maintenance of his salt water tank at home. He said he was having trouble with it but unfortunately this is an area of which I basically have zero knowledge. Even though I stand near salt water tanks for many hours I have not absorbed the intricacies of how to take care of them by osmosis (science pun intended).

Though I couldn't help this man and though he didn't seem particularly interested in the natural history of cuttlefish (of course to my chagrin) it did get me thinking...people who decide to try keeping salt water tanks engage in their own science education in a way a lot of people don't and perhaps this hobby could or should be promoted. He was using words like nitrates and bacteria and was very clearly aware of what was going on in the water. Even if he didn't have a firm grasp of exactly what those things were he was using a vocabulary that the average American doesn't have. He also had a different perspective on things the average person does know about: Most people seem to be firmly rooted in the idea that bacteria is always a horrible thing, lurking, waiting to make us and our children sick.

There are issues with sustainability but I am a believer in using aesthetics and appreciation to cultivate both learning and stewardship. If we as science and environmental educators encourage people to practice the hobby responsibly perhaps more people will make a first step towards developing more sound knowledge of ecosystems. Once I learn how complex it is to take care of a little 40 gallon salt water tank it makes the cognitive leaps towards a firm understanding of the complexity of real ecosystems less difficult. Once I come to appreciate the beauty of the fish or invertebrates I keep at home the more likely I am to care about the ones in the wild. Or so my theory goes. Thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I agree that successfully keeping an aquarium cna teach a person much about science and can encourage an appreciation of the natural world. However, one thing I sometimes think about is how indoor experiences of science and nature maybe increasingly replacing outdoor experiences. For example I'm not sure how frequently aquarium hobbiests are encouraged to take a trip to go snorkeling on a real coral reef or if they begin to learn more about conservation out of appreciation for their aquarium animals.
    There's also alot of info out there in regards to the sustainability of the aquarium industry. Here's an article, not usre if you've looked at it before: