ROSWELL, Ga. — River Eves Elementary School’s newest addition, an aquaponics lab, is already creating waves.

The school announced its debut aquaponics lab Friday, Feb. 10 with a special visit by former Atlanta Mayor and U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young.

The lab, which combines raising aquatic animals and cultivating plants in water, aims to teach students practical applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a hands-on approach. The system uses fish waste to supply nutrients to plants, which in turn purifies the water for the fish. It is a full river system here that duplicates the Chattahoochee River.

“How do we make these real-world problems into something that kids can understand and learn from instead of just showing them in a book?” said Ryan Cox, the CEO of HATponics and creator of the lab. “If we can avoid using the book, and let them get hands on it, then maybe these kids will be the ones to come up with solutions for the world that they can sink their teeth into here.”

The setup contains multiple reservoirs to simulate the different portions and ecosystems in the river. Water levels in some of the reservoirs can be controlled to simulate how drought or overflow conditions can affect the animals and environment.

“They’ll be doing arboriculture, studying flora and fauna, and vertical farming,” Cox said. “We wanted to integrate all of those pieces into a single lifecycle, so instead of studying them individually, the students can get the full picture.”

It took HATponics, the company that designed and engineered the lab, two weeks to install. It has 9-10 thousand gallons of recirculating water in motion at all times and houses 60-75 pounds of wildlife native to the Chattahoochee, including blue channel catfish, largemouth bass, fathead minnows, crawdads and red-eared sliders.

The water system is also used to cultivate plants that can be used as food. In the process, students will learn the basics of how to grow their own food and how to pass their skills on to others.

“Where we’re standing currently will be a makerspace for these students to build and make the system we have with aquaponics even better,” Cox said. “They can impact not only the environment here, but food supplies. They’re going to change the world.”

According to Young, aquaponics can provide a low-cost, low-water use and low-waste producing solution for world hunger.

“We know that the way we produce food now is not adequate. And we’re going to have to find a way to produce food more quickly and more inexpensively, especially with less water,” Young said. “This set up will provide not only fish, but greenery – high-quality vegetables and fruits.”

The River Eves lab is one of a kind in the nation, according to Cox.

“This is really special to me, because the first bill I passed in Congress was to create a Chattahoochee River national park, never thinking that it would have this kind of impact,” Young said. “Instead of just being a nice place for people to have a picnic, it has become the basis for people to have an education for the schools in our area preparing them to be leaders of the future.

“When I went to school, every day when I went to class, somebody would say to us, ‘be prepared – one day you might run with world,’” Young said. “They will be prepared, these fourth and fifth-graders. I guarantee you that they will be prepared.”

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