Spiro Middle School GEAR UP students tour the Oklahoma Aquarium

Sixty-four GEAR UP students from Spiro Middle School recently traveled to Jenks to tour the Oklahoma Aquarium. Upon arrival, the eighth graders explored the aquarium and eight exhibits which includes the Amazing Invertebrates exhibit, which explores the spineless wonders of the world featuring sponges, barnacles, starfish, and sea urchins. Other exhibits included Extreme fishes, Marvels and Mysteries, and Aquatic Oklahoma.

The Aquatic Oklahoma exhibit features a 120-year-old alligator snapping turtle, a seven-foot-long alligator gar, and prehistoric paddlefish.

An educational display showed “Oklahoma’s Most Unwanted: Zebra Mussel.” The Zebra Mussel is considered one of the most harmful Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) in the United States. An ANS is a non-native aquatic species of plant or animal whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic and/or environmental damages. The Zebra Mussels, once established in a new environment, quickly reach high numbers due to the lack of natural predators. Their large numbers, and the fact that they can attach to virtually any hard substrate, make them on of the number one enemies of the state.

The Shark Adventure exhibit features a tunnel that goes directly through the shark tank and allows visitors to see the sharks swimming all around them. There are ten bull sharks and three nurse sharks in the tank. The largest bull shark is a female that is approximately 200 pounds and eight feet long.

Students enjoyed the new addition, Sea Turtle Island, sponsored by The Oxley Foundation. The exhibit houses a 300-pound loggerhead sea turtle, reef sharks and other tropical fish. The 56,000-gallon tank is surrounded by a boardwalk and multilevel viewing which includes an underwater observation station for students to view the exhibit underwater. Educational components highlight the endangered sea turtles and how even in Oklahoma, we can impact sea turtles and their ocean habitat.

“An important part of the GEAR UP grant is allowing students to explore life beyond the classroom and encouraging them to experience new pathways,” said Bethany Hicks, GEAR UP Education Coordinator. “Students stood in awe watching the Oklahoma Aquarium staff work with the animals—from a maintenance worker in a wetsuit cleaning inside the tanks with fish floating around to a caretaker checking in on the raccoons.”

The field trip was sponsored by Eastern Oklahoma State College GEAR UP. Participating schools take two field trips each academic year—one to tour a college or university and one that is cultural/educational in nature. In 2017, Eastern received a $17 million federal GEAR UP grant and will serve over 3,000 students in 39 area schools for seven years.

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