Through a darkened window, streaks of silver flit back and forth, iridescent scales flashing blue-green and pink in the dim light.
The top of the tank opens and Mark Palkovits, land reclamation supervisor with Vale, shakes a few handfuls of food into the water. In an instant, the small swimmers – juvenile rainbow trout, some three thousand of them – pick up their pace, streaking toward the surface and gobbling up the proffered pellets.
The food is quickly gone and the tiny trout continue cruising their tank, unaware of the vital role they’re playing in Vale’s land reclamation efforts and the overall re-greening of Greater Sudbury.
These are no mere aquarium pets, after all. Their tank occupies part of the Vale Greenhouse in Copper Cliff, not far from the spot where hundreds of tiny pine trees bask in the morning sun. Once they’re done digesting those pellets, their waste is used to fertilize the trees, which will be planted later this year.
“We buy the fish and we grow them to a certain size, then we release them into local waterways,” says Glen Watson, superintendent of decommissioning and reclamation with Vale. “But the interesting part here is the waste that is generated by the fish is used to fertilize the trees, where we would otherwise use a chemical fertilizer to put into the water system, so we’re reducing our use of chemical fertilizer as we’re supplementing with the waste from the fish and it’s working quite well for us.”
Most of the 22,000 or so fish raised so far have been released into the Onaping River, as the current juveniles will be this spring. Then, a new group of two- to three-month-olds will move into the tank.
“You can see quite a reaction from the fish when you throw some feed in there, so it’s a visual exercise for anyone who comes in here,” Watson says with a smile. “On occasion, we’ll bring students in and the kids really get a kick out of seeing the fish and looking at how we do things. It really gets them learning and thinking about why we do things to improve our biodiversity. That’s what this is all about.”
Established about 40 years ago, the greenhouse operates year round and grows up to 300,000 seedlings a year, Watson says.
“Traditionally, we grow red pine, white pine and jack pine, and those would be the species that do well in the areas that we’re planting,” he says. “Some of the areas we are planting, it’s sort of tough to be a tree, so we need to plant the trees that have a pretty good chance of survival.”
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