Harrison County school opens one-of-a-kind aquarium - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Harrison County school opens one-of-a-kind aquarium

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HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

Hundreds of Harrison County students can now come face-to-face with a shark every day. They can also feed sea creatures and watch them grow right before their very eyes. On Wednesday, Bel-Aire Elementary School opened its new Aquatic Science Laboratory.

"Ooh, that's a huge tank!" one girl shouted as her class entered the room.

The students squealed with delight as they saw schools of fish swimming in their school.

"That's a giant fish," exclaimed another girl.

"They are so excited. It's like Christmas morning when they get to come in the lab," said Bel-Aire principal Heather Blenden. "We don't know of any other aqua lab along the coast or any area, so we're excited about it."

For the first time, the students got to view the 14 tanks teeming with more than 40 different species of marine life. There were live crabs and shrimp, a Leopard Gecko, even creatures that crawl.

"He's awake," a boy said as he watched a large spider.

The touch pool attracted the biggest crowd.

"It's soft," one girl commented after touching a lobster.

"Harriet" the turtle gets her own tank in the library. And the front office is where you'll find "Bruce", a brown banded bamboo shark that hatched at the school. The shark was donated by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA.

The lab also features animal skeletons and information about each exhibit. The lab allows students to do research, make art, and learn to appreciate nature.

"Even though we live here, they don't always get to experience it another way other than eating it. So we wanted to let them open their eyes to the world of marine in Mississippi," said Blenden.

The aquarium was created with a $5,500 grant from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and about $10,000 worth of equipment from the Gulf Coast Research Lab's Marine Education Center.

"When you go to a facility and you visit for a field trip, you get an experience there and there's a lot to gain from it. But to have something be part of your daily life is really a much richer and deeper way to connect to the environment," said MEC Director Chris Snyder.

The hands-on experience could even spark an interest in future careers in marine biology. The students will help feed the sea creatures. The school plans to start a Science Club so students can learn how to take care of the animals and clean the tanks.

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