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Student Projects

Finding Dory: Saving the Coral Reefs Through Captive Breeding

Author: Lesley Anderson

Grade: 12th

Subjects: Humanities, Science

Student pouring water into fish tank
Student holding fish tank
Students filling fish tank
Classroom visitors
Orange and black fish in tank
Student working on project
Students working on project

How can scientists find creative ways to protect coral reef systems?

How can breeding ornamental fish protect them in the wild?

In what ways is science a humanitarian endeavor?

Ornamental fish are being over fished from coral reef systems and sold in the pet trade industry. When these fish are removed from coral reef systems, harmful algae suffocate the corals and ultimately kill off the entire coral reef ecosystem. If these ornamental fish can be bred in captivity, we can keep the native fish in their local ecosystems and use captive bred ornamentals to supplement the pet trade economy, which has become a major source of income for countries in poverty overseas. With movies like Disney’s Find Dory hitting the screens over the summer, now more than ever it is important to educate people about their choices when they purchase a blue tang Dory fish that has been removed from a coral reef system in Indonesia.

Due to their unique breeding patterns, the blue tang is one species of fish that is very challenging to breed in captivity and has yet to be successful in laboratory settings. The objective for this project is to determine the recipe for captive breeding of ornamental fish. Students will use the engineering design principles to construct saltwater aquarium tanks while conducting studies about the changes in nutrient cycling, pH, ammonia, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Students will then use the scientific method to conduct research on the most effective recipe and tank design for captive breeding of ornamental fish species in the classroom. Findings will be reported professionally to the staff at SeaWorld’s Rising Tide Conservation program. Students will simultaneously be maintaining social media outlets to promote educational awareness around ornamental fish in the pet trade industry.

Month(s) Project Goals* Deliverables*
Aug/Sept ●       Intro to freshwater tank design

●       Intro to saltwater tank design

●       Trainings with 6th period aquarist mentors

●       Certificate of husbandry care

●       Proposal for experimental design

Oct ●       Experimental design

●       Independent variable identification

●       Dependent variable identification

●       Data collected

●       Preliminary data analysis

●       Draft of poster

Nov-Dec ●       Revisions of data collection process

●       Research publication overview

●       Abstract for research

●       Poster conference at SDSU

●       Reflection and revision of design

Biology and Environmental Science Content Overview:

Life Cycle

-Breeding programs

-Pelagic spawners

-Anatomy/ physiology


-Coral reefs

-Keystone species

-Ecosystem balance

Aquatic Health

-Caring for organisms in captivity

-Release preparation

Engineering Design

-Tank design

-Saltwater aquarium care (salinity, pH, temp, etc.)


Intro to Ichthyology & Herpetology: Honors Component to the class

In this class, students will learn about identification, behavior, and maintenance of fresh and saltwater fish species as well as reptiles and amphibians. Students will have the opportunity to participate in feedings, hands-on lab maintenance and set up fresh and saltwater tanks, and they will receive training necessary to earn a pet shop certification. Students will be aiding in setting up a breeding system for amphibians. Students will also learn the art of aquascaping, and will have the opportunity to network with real scientists, pet shop owners, and local members of the pet trade industry.

Potential field trip opportunities1, guest speakers2, partnerships3:


Hubbs Research Institute2,3

Living Coast Discovery Center1

Cal Poly Fish Lab1

NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center2

SDSU Coastal and Marine Institute Laboratory1,2,3


Fountains Aquarium1

Alpine Hatchery1


Kent Marine3



Quality Marine3

  1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.


  1. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts.


  1. Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study