OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - They are raising thousands of tiny fish and tending to their own water gardens. Ocean Springs High students are operating the only high school Aquaculture program in Mississippi. The classes started this year. The students are getting real-world experience in fish farming.
Some 2,000 Tilapia are swimming in large blue tanks, while in another greenhouse, the plastic tubs are stocked with 250 Catfish.
"We ordered all the fish. We did it all ourselves," said Ocean Springs High Junior Eric Lucas.
The fish arrived several months ago as babies, and my how they've grown. Forty-eight students are responsible for raising the fish, from building and cleaning the tanks, to testing the water supply. The teens are part of the first Aquaculture class at Ocean Springs High School.
"What class is it that gets you to handle fish, grow your own fish? You're on your own. You're not babied," said Lucas.
"They basically care for these fish as if they were their own children. You may lose a fish every now and then, and when they lose a fish they're upset about it, and that shows they really care," said Ocean Springs High Aquaculture Teacher Bryan Butler.
Along with caring for their fish, the students also designed their own filtration system. The built hydroponic gardens, or floating plants, that don't rely on soil or pesticides. The plants started off as seeds.
"We have small cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, okra. We have a pineapple hidden in there and a cabbage," Lucas explained.
There's also kale, banana peppers, and watermelon. The plant roots help filter toxins from the water, while the waste from the fish feed the plants.
"It feels good to know we're doing something good, helping these fish grow and maybe feeding some people along the way," said Ocean Springs High Junior Haydn Brown.
They are learning how to replenish the fish supply, while exploring career opportunities in a growing field.
"I'd like for some of them to get that drive to maybe get into marine-based jobs or something that involves fish or Biology," said Butler.
Corey Sherman said signing up for the class was one of the best decisions he has ever made.
"It's such a fun class. Most seniors don't look forward to coming to school, I do, just to come to this class," said Sherman. "I've always liked the water. So I could see myself doing something with the water."
Their hard work has paid off with tasty benefits.
"We get to eat what we grow, even the fish," said Butler.
Next year, the school will offer an Aquaculture II class. Students will raise saltwater fish like Speckled Trout, Croaker and oysters. They will also grow fruit trees.