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Koi Fish and Friends of The Woodlands — Caring for the Koi Fish and Pond

“The algae is for the safety of the baby fish. Without it, the eggs and the fry wouldn’t have a chance against the birds or fish who like to eat them,” says Tony.

For the past 9 years, 3 men known as “Tony and the 2 Dons,” have banded together to care for the beautiful koi fish in the Millennium Mew Park Koi Garden on The Woodlands Waterway. Tony Ramirez, a retired Dow Chemical computer programmer, oversees the fish and pond through his dream post-retirement gig at Berkeley Services. Don Barber and Don Vion, both oil and gas retirees (who over-look the Koi Fish Pond from their respective Waterway Loft residences), assist at the pond on a volunteer basis.

The 60,000-gallon Koi Fish Pond was built in 2009 and features a ½ acre surrounding Japanese styled garden. It has approximately 90 koi fish swimming in this pond which is intentionally dammed off from The Waterway.

Koi are often referred to as “living art”. Each koi fish has distinctive markings in a range of gorgeous colors from black, orange and white to a blue-ish color to a gold-metallic-like color to a jet black solid color. Each one more interesting than the next.

The geometric shapes at the Koi Garden’s entrance, as well as the whole garden landscape, is thoughtful. There is a unique rock circle that bisects half of the garden—cleverly crossing the water and taking your eye beyond the garden’s walls, and the layout of the pond has you travelling in a circle up and over the pond itself on small bridges at two points. After many heat waves and cold weather freezes, all the specialty plants have died off and nearly everything that is now thriving in the garden has grown naturally. This has added a wonderfully organic Texas feel to this stunning Japanese garden.

The koi are friendly fish. Like clockwork, they know when Tony (their “Mamma”) is near with his daily feeding jug (which he shakes to make a loud noise to get their attention). This is their cue to follow him around like a pack of hungry puppies. They even take food right from Tony’s hands!

“Fishery biologist Brett Rowley taught me everything I know,” says Tony. “I am so grateful for the knowledge he passed on to me about how to take care of the koi.”

The koi spawning season between May and June is when Tony and the 2 Dons are the busiest. Prior to spawning, the female fish become very swollen from the eggs they are carrying. The males, conversely, are thinner. When the females reach the optimum size (a mark of fertilization readiness), the males become extremely aggressive pursuing female fish around the pond and then repeatedly ram into them. Their goal is to help release the female’s eggs from her body into the water.

“We’ll see the males pursuing the females by smashing into the them. Pockets of the pond will see large amounts of splashing and fish rising up out of the water for a few seconds,” says Don Barber. “It’s quite a show.”

One time, during spawning season, Tony had to rescue a male fish who accidentally ricocheted himself up and out of the water onto the ground.

Once the females’ eggs are released into the water, the males fertilize them. A spawning group of koi can produce thousands of eggs in one season. A few days later small fish, known as “fry”, are born. For survival, the fry hides in rock crevices and areas of vegetation to shield themselves from harmful predators like birds and fish who eat the eggs and young. Only 5 or 6 fish from the thousands spawned will make it to maturity.

“The male heron birds on Lake Woodlands like to visit our pond and eat the baby fish,” explains Don Vion. “So, the other Don and I make it our mission to shoo away the birds, the best we can, until the fish are bigger and have a fighting chance.”

Each weekday the 2 Dons meet downstairs for their morning walk and then stop by to visit Tony who arrives around 7 a.m. at the Koi Fish Pond. These three friends talk and then get to work checking on the koi, the pond and answering questions about the fish from curious residents and visitors. One major concern from residents is the algae in the lily pond area—folks think it looks unkempt.

“I explain the algae is for the safety of the baby fish. Without it, the eggs or the fry wouldn’t have a chance against the birds or fish who like to eat them,” says Tony.

This fish-loving trio’s friendship extends beyond the pond too. A few years ago, Tony’s daughter wanted to get married on the bridge in the Koi Garden. When the day came, however, she and the wedding party were met by an unexpected rainstorm. The 2 Dons quickly moved into action—ushering the whole wedding from the pond area into their adjacent building. They waited out the storm and at the end of the party were finally able to snap a photograph outdoors by the koi pond— just as Tony’s daughter had always wished for.

This summer, stop by the Koi Gardens and say hello and thanks to Tony and the 2 Dons: caretakers of the koi. The Koi Fish Pond is open from dawn to dusk—plenty of time to explore this hidden gem and meet this terrific trio!