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Jun 292009

By Christopher Peake
Green Right Now

Aquariums are wonderful places to spend a summer day: if the weather is cool you can stay outdoors, if it’s hot there are indoor exhibits. Menacing sharks, beautifully-colored fish, gliding sea turtles, manta rays, sea snakes, sea horses, penguins and birds and river otters and performing orcas and porpoises all represent what is most beautiful and exciting about the waters of Planet Earth.

But they also represent a world that is disappearing quicker than we thought possible, and this is where aquariums hold a key to the future of water creatures.

Aquariums have realized that they must conduct research and they must also show us what is alive, what is dying and what we can do to balance it all. And so they tie their exhibits and their activities back to conservation, and tell us how we can help.

The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston has two fun shows that deliver the green/blue message: their ongoing Sea Turtle Rescue Program and the new Penguin Planet exhibit.

The endangered sea turtles migrate annually to, and give birth along, beaches from Virginia to the Florida Keys, so there are many turtles of varying ages that run into trouble: bacterial and fungal infections, the shock from cold water, wounds from boat strikes and shark bites. The South Carolina Aquarium Turtle Hospital receives turtles that are found and its animal care staff administers whatever medical care they can to eventually get the turtles back into the ocean. But the really cool part of this program is that Aquarium visitors are able to go into the hospital; they can adopt injured turtles and can keep track of some of the rescued turtles with satellite tags.

Planet Penguin’s Magellanic penguins are typically found along coastal Southern Argentina and Chile. They are classified as “near threatened” and the South Carolina Aquarium exhibit helps visitors understand what threatens these two-foot tall birds and what can be done to ensure they don’t become full-fledged members of “threatened” species. Visitors will be able to tie in the penguins’ plight to ongoing interactive learning games and educational exhibits on climate changes in South Carolina. (Check out their penguins from anywhere on the aquarium’s live penguin cam.)

California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium has two unusual offerings: a live Laysan Albatross exhibit  and for children 8 – 13, an Underwater Explorers event.

The Laysan albatross lives on tiny Midway Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They fly hundreds of miles, sometimes even a thousand miles in search of food. All too often the shiny thing floating on the ocean surface not a squid or other sea food but instead a cigarette lighter or a bottle cap or other small bit of plastic. The albatross swoops down, swallows it and when her stomach is full she returns to Midway and regurgitates the food into her young; including the plastics. Scientists estimate that as many as 40% of Laysan chicks die from ingesting plastics. This may sound impossible but autopsies prove it. Even healthy Laysan chicks have at least one ounce of plastic in their stomach.

So what’s the green message of Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Laysan albatross exhibit? Properly disposing of plastics, but more importantly finding substitutes for plastic containers, helps wildlife. The live albatross exhibit shows their vulnerability.

The Underwater Explorers swim along the water’s surface and study the sea life below them. By wearing flotation suits and breathing from air (SCUBA) tanks participants are able to float and have a fish-eye view of Monterrey Bay’s Great Tidal Pool below. As the tides ebb and flow the water creatures come and go, so each trip is different and there is always something going on below the surface. Certified dive staff oversee the program.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore lives by a creed of conservation: “Everything we do ties back to a conservation message, telling people what they can do to help protect the environment.” And so this summer they’re exhibiting Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance. Visitors will learn about the role they’re playing in a changing ocean, where global warming is shifting territorial ranges and creating an over population of jellyfish that can be deadly to other species, especially fish needed for food.

You’ll see nine different species of these pre-historic creatures and learn how the jellies’ existence and increasing population are important environmental indicators.

(Photo credit: Penguin, South Carolina Aquarium; Laysan Albatross, Monterey Bay Aquarium)

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media