Back the Natives
River Basin is one of the most diverse aquatic places in the world,
according to the World Wildlife Fund. The Tennessee Aquarium Research
Institute (TNARI) conserves and restores species with primary
focus on native aquatic organisms. Through research, partnerships
and conservation programs, TNARI hopes to promote the future well
being of these and other animals.
Lake sturgeon can reach weights of more than 300 pounds. That's
eight feet of “prehistoric” fish patrolling the depths
of the Tennessee River. But just because sturgeon have been around
for millions of years doesn’t mean they’re plentiful.
In fact, due to habitat destruction, over-fishing and water pollution
these shark-like fish virtually disappeared from Tennessee’s
rivers during the past century.
When the Tennessee
Aquarium and its partners agreed to save the sturgeon, it became
a long-term commitment, and currently the Tennessee Aquarium Research
Institute (TNARI) has completed three successful years of the
25-year reintroduction program.
begins with sturgeon eggs, hatched indoors in special tanks at
the TNARI facilities at the University of Georgia’s Cohutta
Fisheries Center. Once these fish are 10 inches long, a size considered
suitable to survive in the wild, they are tagged with an individual
identification number and some are implanted with a tiny radio
transmitter so their movements can be tracked.
year, sturgeon eggs were hatched and the fry raised by the Aquarium
and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Afterward, thousands of
young sturgeon were tagged and released in the French Broad River.
Since 2000 more than 8,000 sturgeon have been released, but because
sturgeon grow and mature slowly, it will be many years before
a self-sustaining population is reestablished.
Turtles represent an important component of aquatic ecosystems,
and due to their longevity and relatively restricted home ranges,
they are superb subjects for environmental studies. Turtles also
provide valuable insight regarding the stability of their community
and the environment.
years the Aquarium, in connection with the Tennessee River Gorge
Trust, has studied turtles in the Gorge. The project’s goal
is to develop a better understanding of the turtle species living
in this unique stretch of the Tennessee River and to monitor turtle
populations to ensure their future well being.
In 2002 TNARI
received a generous grant from the University of Tennessee at
Chattanooga Lupton Renaissance Gift Fund. The gift will fund a
new scientist to join the TNARI staff and help develop TNARI’s
long-term turtle conservation and research program addressing
regional, national and international needs. The herpetologist
will continue the River Gorge turtle survey for another four years
as well as join the UTC staff as their herpetologist
We are in the midst of “the second largest extinction event
on the planet,” and most people don’t even know it,
says TNARI Research Scientist Paul Johnson. The victims? Snails,
mussels and other aquatic animals that inhabit streams and rivers.
And the problem is occurring right under our noses.
has the largest diversity of freshwater snails in the world. But
that status is quickly changing. The effects are most visible
in the Coosa River Basin, where 41 out of the 72 documented freshwater
mollusk extinctions in North America have occurred.
one of the building blocks of the food pyramid in a water system.
But in addition to serving as food for fish and other animals,
snails also benefit the environment by eating algae and debris
on the river bottom. Thus the loss of snails from rivers and streams
can be disastrous for aquatic ecosystems.
To stem the
tide of extinction in southeastern rivers and streams, TNARI continues
its efforts to survey and monitor mollusks within the region and
to propagate mussels and snails in captivity for reintroduction
into the wild.
have successfully bred in captivity the Georgia rocksnail, the
plicate rocksnail and the spiny riversnail - snails selected for
propagation because habitat destruction has resulted in the loss
of these species from over 85 percent of their historical range.
In 2002 TNARI
researchers produced 11,864 snails in captivity. More than 2,700
spiny riversnails were released into the Tennessee River in 2002.
the release of finelined pocketbook mussels, animals that have
nearly disappeared in the wild. In all, research scientists have
produced nine mussel species, amounting to more than 11,800 mussels
Discovery Hall is like a glass-bottom boat journey through the
most fascinating aquatic vistas of the Southeast and features
some of the most beautiful and bizarre creatures.
an underwater world where vibrantly colored sunfish float like
jewels, or peek into a swamp nursery where baby alligators bask.
From the strange spatula-shaped snout of the paddlefish to the
huge claws of the painted river prawn, Discovery Hall gives guests
an up-close look at the animals’ remarkable adaptations.
One of the
most popular features of the gallery is the lake sturgeon touch
station-an area where guests can actually have a hands-on encounter
with the fish that once ruled the rivers of Tennessee. The sturgeon
touch station is the only one in North America.
touch station also features video that explains how the well being
of these and other native animals depends on the stewardship of
their human neighbors. Guests also learn about the Aquarium’s
efforts to reintroduce these animals to rivers in the region.