Making a splash – Elvin Hill first graders get thrill from SCHS tilapia

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tilapia, a food fish served in restaurants, made a big splash with kids from Elvin Hill Elementary School recently.

First graders from Jennifer Odgers’ and Sonia Cardwell’s classes took a short field trip down Washington Street to Shelby County High School where science (marine biology) teacher Tommy McCoy and agriscience teacher Brandon Tew are teaching high school students the science and marketing aspects of raising tilapia.

McCoy said it’s a fish served in local restaurants. And the raising of the fish in a greenhouse at SCHS is a joint project between his and Tew’s classes.

McCoy said Auburn University helped start the program with the donation of 500 tilapia, which have since grown to adulthood.

But in the meantime, he said, the school now has a tank full of baby tilapia.

The baby fish are kept separate from the adult fish with each group living in its own 500-gallon tank.

When the youngsters from Elvin Hill came to visit, McCoy had to make several swipes with a net making quite a splash for the children as he attempted to capture the adult tilapia for them to see and feel.

He explained how waste material is cleaned from the bottom and middle of the tanks with the help of air bubbles and purified by passing the water over bits of plastic coated with waste-eating bacteria.

McCoy said the fish are fed catfish food. But he said the fish also feed off algae in the water.

He said that in his class he teaches students about the biology and chemistry involved in raising the fish while Tew teaches students about marketing the fish for sale.

He said the tanks and equipment cost about $4,000 and was raised from student fees.

According to McCoy, tilapia are mouthbroders, which means once the eggs are fertilized, the female scoops them up in their mouths.

He said the fish are then hatched from their mother’s mouth.

The first graders asked about the color of the water, which is dark green due to algae, and asked what the fish eat.

And the children squealed with delight when McCoy gave them an opportunity to pet the fish.

Tilapia is sometimes called sunshine snapper, cherry snapper, Nile perch, mouthbrooders and St. Peter’s fish.

Said to have a sweet, mild flavor, legend has it that tilapia is the fish that Jesus multiplied to feed the masses