By Jason KUROSU
Students from Clark Magnet High School have taken home $20,000 in scholarship prizes for their winning entries in the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge, with hopes of gaining at least $30,000 more for their projects regarding overfishing and alternative energy sources.
The Eco Challenge is a national STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) contest for students from grades six to 12, with two contest portions that each participating group must address, the land/water and air/climate challenges.
Two teams out of 10 finalists are eligible to win the final challenge grand prize of $30,000. The self-proclaimed Cricket Busters from Clark teacher Dominique Evans-Bye’s class hopes to win with their project addressing the global epidemic of overfishing, and particularly its effects on species of rockfish native to California.
Recent studies show that global estimates of fish catches are much higher than previously thought, with 109 million metric tons of fish caught annually.
In addition to overfishing’s effects on oceanic biodiversity, rockfish, which can live in high pressure, deep sea depth environments, can suffer what is known as barotrauma when fished. Barotrauma enlarges the fish’s gas bladder to the point where its eyes pop out and its stomach protrudes from its mouth. Rockfish suffering from barotrauma are typically thrown back by fishermen, but without any means to return to their normal depths, the fish are often left to die near the ocean surface.
To combat this problem, the team at Clark Magnet has worked on creating descending devices, which can safely lower affected fish to their original environments and allow them to compress and heal under more typical pressure levels.
However, rockfish are not the only ones affected by the ever-expanding fishing industry, which is relied upon heavily worldwide as a means for food and employment.
While many depend on fish as a protein source, project manager and Clark senior Sipan Nazaryan explored alternative sources of protein and found that insects were an oft-neglected prospect.
The group found that crickets produce 80% less methane than cattle produce, while also generating more protein with fewer resources. According to the group’s findings, 10 pounds of beef produces one pound of protein, as opposed to two pounds of crickets needed to produce one pound of protein. It also takes a thousand times more water to generate one pound of protein from a cow than from a cricket.
To illustrate the practicality of insect cuisine, the group set upon finding recipes with insects and found some tasty examples at Typhoon, an Asian fusion restaurant near the Santa Monica Airport.
“In a lot of places around the world, people eat insects,” Nazaryan said, who noted that insects already do appear in food products, such as cochineals, a scale insect used in food dyes.
The group eventually got to cooking and baking their own entrees, including cricket cookies, cricket milkshakes and other items that included crickets, scorpions and silkworm pupae. They also mentored some Roosevelt Middle School students on the proper methodology for insect cooking and submitted their cricket cookies to California State University, Long Beach’s IIRMES laboratory, for comparison of the nutritional value of the cookies with Clark’s cafeteria food.
The group addressed the air/climate portion of the Eco Challenge by creating a lesson plan for teachers examining the effectiveness and availability of a number of energy resources, including natural gas, petroleum, nuclear desalination, hydrogen, hydroelectricity, coal, solar and wind power.
The group analyzed the practical implementation of each energy source, with their lesson plan doubling as a teaching tool showing students how to use the ARC map program, which the group used to create maps outlining data for energy sources and insect populations throughout the world.
The group hopes to be one of the 10 finalists competing for the final challenge, which is due late February.
The next step would be to officially test the descending devices on rockfish, something Evans-Bye is seeking to accomplish off the coast near Ventura, where she says the highest biodiversity of rockfish can be found.
The Cricket Busters are composed of Nazaryan, Manuk Boyadzhyan, Aren Pariyani, Khachatur Marutyan, Cynthia Shamerzian, David Ghukasyan, James Rivera, Devon Taylor, Karo Gairamanyan and Fatma Abdel Rahman.
The group encourages community participation on Twitter at #CricketCuddlers and #SaveAFishEatABug and to visit their project websites, www.cricketcuddlers.weebly.com and www.barobusters.weebly.com.
To experience cricket cookies firsthand, the cookies can be had by all at the Clark Expo on Saturday, Jan. 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.