Miracle, “an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.” just one of several definitions of that oft overused word. However, in the example of fish surviving the hostile, brutally cold environment of life under a sheet of ice for a period of up to 6 months, that surely must qualify as miraculous. I have a small pond in our garden. Each year, for the past 12 years, I have tried to keep alive a collection of gold fish. I use the word ‘tried’ because my success rate has been somewhat less than spectacular…until I finally realized the error of my ways. Over the years I had tried a number of natural as well as unorthodox methods of defeating the cold of winter to keep my fish alive. I have stored them in the basement in large plastic tubs and aerators, lights and constant feeding. It worked, but was messy and required a babysitter when I was not home for a few days. The fish survived and grew, but each spring I had the messy task of removing them from the tubs and relocating them to the pond. Not a lot of fun, and very unsettling for the fish. Then I came across a floating heater ring that had to be plugged into a 110 v outlet. After delivering electricity to my little pond, I finally had the answer to successful fish survival for the winter months—or so I thought. After a brutally cold winter, the water froze, the fish died in spite of the heater ring, and I had to go back to the drawing board. Just a short digression here to explain the physiological facts of winter survival under the ice. No matter how low the temperature, the fish will survive in a state of semi hibernation as long as there is a source of fresh oxygen reaching the water supply of their home. In a very large pond that is not a problem, since there is sufficient oxygen suspended in the water, and a few fish will not use it all up before the thaw. In a small and contained pond, such as mine, it’s a different story. Two things happen when the pond freezes from edge to edge. One, the fresh air supply is cut off, and two, any plant matter still present in the water will rot and poison the environment…fish die.
What was the solution?
I had heard that the crossing on the St. Lawrence river, from Kingston to Wolf Island, was kept open by a constant flow of air bubbles. Three years ago I connected an aerator to the pond and my fish have been happy ever since. No more chasing and capturing them in the fall and spring, no feeding, since they must not eat while their system is running on super-slow-mo, and no more feelings of guilt for dead fish in the spring.
Of course, none of the interventions on my part will negate the miracle of survival of these beautiful gold fish in an environment that would kill any one of us in seven minutes or less. Nature has equipped these fish with a survival system that is the envy of every scientist working on improving cold water survival rates of humans.
Below are two pictures of my gold fish, one through the net that keeps out leaves and stuff, the other through the ice. Hang in there little buddies, spring will soon be here again.