Just on the verge of the University of Connecticut sits Edwin O. Smith high school. This High school has a rather unique program. This program is an intense science, biology and conservation program that teaches students about Coral.
The participants in this program aren’t just watching videos or reading textbooks they are literally getting their hands wet in over 1200 gallons of coral cultivating water! They currently house over 50 different species of coral in their school. Over 100 students each year get an education on how to grow and propagate coral, they learn about reefs, eco systems and conservation efforts. They grow coral in typical aquariums, and Rubbermaid totes, they have fish breeding systems, research tanks and a large raceway tank setup in a green house.
Jon Swanson is the lead instructor for this program he is passionate about corals and sharing his knowledge with his students. His program shares their enthusiasm for coral through with an even bigger audience by hosting the largest single day frag swap in the country every March known as the Farmers Frag Market. This event brought over 1200 people and 60 vendors through the school this March. It is literally like black Friday for Reef enthusiast, there were guest speakers top shelf vendors, local hobbyist, dry good suppliers the labs filled with vendor tables, and the hallways were jammed packed with people looking for that ideal specimen.
The Farmers Frag market has grown every year this has been my 4th year attending and 3rd as a vendor the activity is led by Jon and his students. It is an awe-inspiring experience to see such a mixed and diverse group coming together to share their interest in this hobby, to see students genuinely caring about their school, their program and coral conservation, to see Jon manage to chat with everyone and share information about his program through all the chaos of the day.
In addition to growing coral some of the students also make frag plugs, they have gotten creative over the years, I have scene everything from the death star, to a bust of Darth Vader to Lego Bricks. One of Son and Sand’s tanks is in a Pediatrics office, I had contacted Jon to ask if his students could try to make me a hook like Maui’s from Moana. I had expected something white in the shape of the hook that coral would grow one. Jon and his students got a learning experience as they tried to cast numerous hooks, the most common problem is it would break. Jon got a mold and used a plastic like foam to cast the mold, after breaking a few more hooks there was success. Jon sent me a picture of something really unique and incredible. The hook was cast with all the small details. I was floored at the work he and his students had accomplished.
To celebrate over 4 years of service I presented the hook to Eastern Maine Medical Centers Pediatric primary care. They were grateful for the hook that now resides in their custom 120 Caribbean Biotope (yes, I know Moana takes place in the pacific). Yesterday as I was servicing the tank a little voice on the other side said, “Mommy, Mommy look its Maui’s hook! Look at the fish”. I always take the time to teach a curious child about at least 1 organism in the tank if they approach me. The hook will encourage more kids to get close to the tank and get a small tidbit of a reef education, Jon and his students have an influence that reaches far beyond Connecticut and continues the mission of the E.O. Smith High School Coral Project. I want to extend a special thank you to Jon, and his students for donating this piece of art, and their hands-on conservation efforts! I want to also extend a thank you to EMMC for 4 years of patronage!