Our Own Touch Tank

For years we have paid a local aquarium to bring a touch tank to our school for Ocean Week.  This year we decided to dive in and try our own!  We purchased a 20 gallon salt water aquarium set up and ordered both the “small marine set” and “large marine set” from Carolina Biological supply.  The tank was set up in the classroom of a teacher who agreed to host half hour visits from all classes during Ocean week.  The students in the class acted as aquarium “guides” and created posterboard displays for five of the selected species in the tank (sea star, sea urchin, snail, hermit crab and sea cucumber).  The students wore “shark visors” and went to pick up each class for their scheduled visit.  The classes walked into the decorated “aquarium” through a curtain of seaweed (green table cloth cut in strips and hung by a tension rod).  Each guide talked to the classes about their specific species and then allowed the children to move in small groups to touch the critters in small “show ‘n tell” bowls on the student’s desks.  The visitors could ask questions and get a close look at each species.  The interaction between the guides and the visitors was fantastic.  The visits were fast paced and hands-on and kept the student’s attention focused on learning about the organisms.  Now that our school owns the tank, we will simply have to replenish the organisms each year.  The “small marine set” is as low as $25.00.   Take note:  we had no experience with a salt water fish tank set-up.  Our amazing PTA funded the purchase of the tank.  We added furniture sliders to the tank stand to allow it to be moved if necessary.  So if you are looking to provide that hands-on, up close and personal visit with marine organisms, why not try your own touch tank?  The chemistry of water testing is even great fun for the students to observe or participate in!

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3 Responses to Our Own Touch Tank

  1. Sage Lichtenwalner June 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    This sounds like it was an awesome setup. I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to see it during my visit.

    I’m unfamiliar with the Carolina aquarium set, but wanted to point out another option. We typically get our touch tank critters from MBL in Woods Hole.

    They’re definitely a lot of fun. MBL also has a full list of other critters you can order, and we’ve occasionally gotten the mixed seaweed bucket which is great for classification activities and pressing.

  2. Susan Haskell August 3, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Since it is summer, I have been making weekly visits to my school to maintain the touch tank. I have had to add salt water ($) weekly and casualties produce nitrogen before I can scoop them out by the next week. I really don’t mind this, but I thought of an alternative for next year. By now, our tank is 3 months old and more than 600 little hands have had a turn at holding the inhabitants. Needless to say…we have had alot of casualties! This was expected. As the last of the snails and marine hermit crabs die off, I am going to empty the tank and give everything a thorough cleaning. We will reorder organisms in April for our May Ocean week. In the meantime, I am going to use the tank for terrestrial hermit crabs. This will be less weekly maintenance and keep the equipment intact, but dormant until May. The custodians will be happy that they do not have to move a tank full of salt water out of the classroom for floor stripping and waxing! This was our first experience with our own touch tank and I would definitely say that it was well worth it. It is just a learning experience as we go along! Go with the flow on this one!

  3. Mike Martin August 31, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    I am elated to hear that your touch tank was a big hit:) The key to keeping a thriving touch tank environment where the animals live (until eaten by the other tank inhabitants of course) is related to the tanks filtration. Here is a recap of what is needed to protect both touch tank learners and touch tank creatures:

    1. To protect animals from human toxins: Use an in-line (after water exits touch tank) activated charcoal filter on the touch tank water supply system to absorb any toxins from hand cream, perfume, sun screen, antibiotic salve, soap, etc. that humans may put on their hands and/or arms. The charcoal in the filter should be periodically replaced with new charcoal, and the used charcoal discarded.

    2. To protect humans from water-borne bacteria: UV light sterilizer(s) (a minimum of one, in line after water exits reservoir and prior to going to touch tank; another is recommended in line after water exits touch tank), and other support equipment as ozone generator, diatom filter, protein skimmer, pumps, etc. should all be installed on water reservoir away from public view. Dead and dying animals, and excessive organics (including uneaten food), should be removed as soon as possible to prevent build-up of bacteria.

    3. To protect humans from other humans that utilize touch tank: Must try to kill human pathogenic bacteria that enter system via hands/arms, hair, wounds, spittle, etc. Use UV light sterilizer on system (hidden from view), at least one in line just prior to water going to touch tank, and other support equipment as listed above, to try to control pathogens introduced by humans.

    Good Luck,

    Mike Martin

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