Young Minds Gains Insights on Sustainable Outdoor Pond

High school environmental science taught via a "Living Lab."

Redondo school pond

The completed pond sits right outside of Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) classroom.

A hands-on interactive outdoor pond is giving high school students a refreshing new way to examine the science of sustainability as they learn more about the past and present impacts of today’s world.

The brainchild of science teacher Gillian Moberg, who was able to bring her idea of a living outdoor lab to life with the environmental and pond expertise of EnviroscapeLA’s Mike Garcia and key donations from pump and filtration system manufacturer OASE, the pond has taken on a life of its own on the sprawling campus of Redondo Union High School (RUHS) in Redondo Beach, California.

An On-Campus Oasis

Though intended for class experiments, the pond area is so inviting that students and adults often plop down yoga mats on the flagstone surrounding the pond or lounge and lunch on the grass nearby. As goldfish swim in its depths behind a fish cage (so the neighborhood raccoons don’t grab them), water cascades down expertly placed rocks, creating two waterfalls that flow into the gravity-fed pond. The pond itself contains two levels: the deeper one for the fish cage and a surrounding underwater ledge approximately a foot or so wide.

The pond’s rim is fashioned out of a reddish flagstone selected to blend well with the high school’s color: red. Native plants grow out of the rocks and top area where the waterfall begins, attracting birds, butterflies and honeybees. The effect is soothing, natural and peaceful.

But the experiments the students use the pond forgo well beyond what meets the eye, and that’s just what Moberg had in mind when she set about finding someone who could collaborate with her to build an outdoor lab that reflects life as it is.

“Students benefit immensely from active participation in projects,” Moberg said. “These projects help to create a culture of environmental awareness.

“Using our campus and community as a large teaching tool has allowed many of my students to discover a passion and a purpose they would not have found if the learning was confined to just the classroom,” she continued.

Open space by the science classroom.

The original space before the pond.

The new RUHS pond is perfectly positioned just outside the doors to the Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) classroom, giving students easy and convenient access to their living laboratory. APES is a course offered by College Board as part of the Advanced Placement (AP) program to high school students interested in the environmental and natural sciences.

Staying in the Loop

One interesting feature of the pond is the fact that its nutritious, more solid waste runs via an underground pipe to a release sprinkler head that, when activated, waters a privet hedge, keeping the system “closed-loop.”

So, what is that closed loop, and how does it work?

This is where master pond builder Garcia, who is passionate and then some about sustainability, took the reins, creating and implementing a well thought-out pond design.

“We wanted to make sustainability look beautiful as something that draws the eye,” he said. “We want to inspire today’s youths to take what they see and experience and learn here and expand on it.”

The RUHS pond recirculates the water it uses, parsing the more solid waste that comes from the fish in the pond back up into the filtration system that sits above the cascading boulder waterfall. Inside this filtration and pump system reside sponges that collect and break down that waste. By activating a simple component, the wastewater is released through tubing to the sprinkler head where the privets are watered—some 50 feet away.

a pon vertical aquaponic vegetable filter system

Mike’s team assembles the vertical aquaponic vegetable system.

Water that is clean enough is sent back through the system, flowing down the rocks, where it joins water already in the pond. Inside the pond is yet another filtration and pump system that sends the dirtier wastewater back to the top system and its sponges for cleaning. Other water that is filled with nutrients from the fish waste is then pumped into other tubing that is connected to an aquaponic tower (or vertical vegetable garden) created by Garcia and crafted of human-grade plastic. The water is then pushed up to the top of the tower, where it spills through holes, making its way down the tower and into the pockets that hold seeds in volcanic rock wool.

Sustainable Solutions

For Garcia, who has long heralded the environment and protecting our natural resources, the pond is representative of his multifaceted approach to landscaping and conserving, an approach that has led to his many inventions and his continuing desire to teach the world how to be sustainable, one effort at a time.

“Sustainability is living today without borrowing from tomorrow,” he said. “Mankind is not an island. We depend on the earth to give us food, water and air. The food we eat is the result of a long journey of animals and insects that depend on nature for survival. Very small insects feed larger life, such as birds, which, in turn, feed higher life forms, and ultimately results in feeding an ever-expanding human population.”

Given his passion, he says that he and Moberg were the perfect partners for the pond project.

OASE filter school pond california

The Enviroscape team assembling the OASE Filter.

“Students experience the problem and the solutions,” Moberg said. “The pond will be added to our coursework as a vehicle for teaching about sustainable-water use in agriculture. The pond is part of the aquaponics unit. Once fish are added, we will add kale, lettuce and perhaps cucumber and other edible vegetation that the students will decide upon. We will also use the pond to practice water-quality testing protocols.”

Pond Life Learning

Earlier this year, after the winter’s steady, heavy rainfall, students checked different areas of water accumulated on campus for bacteria. Their experiments revealed that the pond water was the cleanest on campus, compared to other areas where water had accumulated. They also recently designed experiments to use the pond to pursue the question of why water turns green.

The pond at RUHS will be maintained by the AP students. Moberg said the subjects that will be taught around the pond will include water quality, biological succession, ecosystem relationships, nitrogen cycling and much more.

“For me, environmental science is made to be taught using real-life experiences wherever possible,” she said. “It is unlike any other course I have taught, in that it is very accessible to all students.”

Garcia, who designs gardens and water features that benefit the environment and demonstrate how sustainable living works, is keen on ensuring the health of our food supply. His aquaponic towers are just one of the ways he can show and give clients the opportunity to put sustainable living into practice. He also likes the fact that water features can be built to include plants that feed the insects humans need to live.

“The biggest way we can influence change is through our children,” he noted. “Children must be taught the principles of stewardship of the earth. Thankfully, we have stewards of the planet we call teachers, especially science and biology teachers.

“Every school in America needs a pond,” Garcia continued. “This project was a great example of local schools, vendors and businesses working together to affect positive change for future generations of our children and their children.”

NOTE: A special thanks to OASE for their generous donation of the BioTec filter, Bitron UV light and Pond Boss pump, which comprise the pond’s filtration system | us.oase-livingwater.com

>> For more information, contact Mike Garcia at mike@EnviroscapeLA.com

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