Equipped to Dive, Students Make Aquarium Their Classroom

Andrew Sutchen, 18, was keeping his head down, trying to ignore the fish. It was hard to concentrate on the task at hand: underwater housekeeping for the New York Aquarium in Coney Island. “They kept biting my hair,” he said. “I felt a tug and saw that one had pulled some out.”

The fish — known as sergeant majors, one among the 40 tropical species in the Glover’s Reef exhibit at the aquarium — were feisty, but not really a threat. They grow to only six inches, and their teeth are too small to do any harm.

The encounter was all part of an unusual internship for nine students from the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island with a special focus on marine science and technology. Every other week over the past winter, diving students from the school have come out to the aquarium, part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. They donned their scuba gear, then plunged into the 167,000-gallon Glover’s Reef tank, scrub brushes in hand, to clean algae off the artificial coral reefs.

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