Baltic High senior turning heads with college level aquaponics project
April 22. 2014 6:10PM
Twenty-seven Baltic High School students have spent months preparing their senior projects for tonight’s judging. It’s safe to say Kyler Johnson is the only one who is serving fish to the judges.
For Kyler’s senior project he created aquaponic tanks that raise the fish tilapia in one, then recycle the fish waste into nutrients for large containers of plants.
The effort the 18-year-old put into his required senior project, his advisers say, elevates it to college-level work. Baltic High School requires a completed senior project for graduation, which includes a research paper and a final product that is presented twice, once to the community and once to judges.
“His mentor is amazed by the time and effort Kyler put into it,” said Tanisha Daugaard, senior project coordinator for Baltic High School. “Even his peers. I hear them talking in my class or in the hallway. They just say great things about him. He’s really kind of gone above and beyond what we require.”
Kyler’s mentor, Anne Land of Baltic, watched as Kyler’s senior project offered him more and more inspiration.
“When a problem came up, he was curious and wanted to solve it,” Land said. “And he ran into a lot of problems.”
Kyler, the son of Wyn and Char Johnson, became interested in aquaponics— the practice of cultivating aquatic animals such as fish with hydroponics, or cultivating plants in water — when his father returned from a trip to Florida where he saw a large-scale operation.
Kyler researched aquaponics and tank designs and became convinced he could do it on a smaller scale, one that could fit into his parents’ rural Baltic basement.
“He has really supportive parents,” Land said.
Every week, Kyler had to write about his progress in a journal.
“I couldn’t wait to read his journal,” Daugaard said. “You could tell he really, really enjoyed what he was doing. He’s a hard-working student, but this project motivated him even more. He’s blown me away with it.”
Kyler originally planned on raising perch, but the ponds were frozen on the fish farms that sell that fish. A Hutterite colony near Arlington raises tilapia and agreed to sell 40 fish to him.
“Tilapia is the most common fish that’s farmed,” Kyler said. “It happened to work out fine.”
Kyler chose to construct a more expensive aquaponics system because he wanted to experiment with different rocks. He puts about 14 hours a week into tending the aquaponics system; at the start it took much more time.
The fish weighed 3/4ths to one pound when they arrived. Now, at 11/2 to two pounds, they are ready to eat. Some of the tilapia will be filleted and eaten tonight and at a later fish fry; others will be saved for breed stock.
That’s because even though Kyler plans to study animal science at South Dakota State University, he has no plans to dismantle the fish and plant tanks.
“I could open a greenhouse and continue this,” Kyler said. “I’ve learned a lot, especially from raising fish. I think this was a pretty good learning experience.”
|Joe Alquist / Argus Leader Media
Kyler Johnson, a Baltic High School senior, stands for a portrait on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at his home near Baltic, S.D. Johnson has raised 40 tilapia, and the waist from the tilapia fertilize a small produce garden as a part of his senior project at Baltic High School.