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contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3002


Beyond the Aquarium's walls
Inside the Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute

The Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute is the not-for-profit conservation and research arm of the Aquarium. Its mission is to carry out environmental research and conservation projects needed to help ensure the health and long-term sustainability of regional natural resources, and especially aquatic ecosystems.

Formed in 1996, TNARI grew out of the Aquarium's need to further expand its research opportunities. Earlier, small-scale research projects began at the Tennessee Aquarium soon after the facility opened in 1992. Aquarium aviculturists began working with the Institute for Bird Populations to band native birds and measure their activity for conservation purposes in cooperation with the national Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program. Aquarium biologists, such as Chief Research Scientist Dr. Anna George, currently the director of TNARI, headed other research projects on an individual basis. When the Aquarium's research section was formed in 1994, Aquarium staff added college interns and outside biologists to the team.

TNARI seeks to ensure the sustainability of the region's natural resources by:

  • Contributing useful knowledge about environments of the Southeast gathered through scientific research;
  • the next generation of environmental professionals and educating the public to instill a greater understanding and appreciation of science and nature;
  • Fostering and initiating conservation efforts aimed at ensuring the health and long-term sustainability of natural resources;
  • Using knowledge gained through scientific research to encourage, promote and support sustainable economic development; and
  • Producing young scientific leaders and serving as a national model for other communities seeking a healthy balance between economic growth and the environment.

TNARI is located in a modern, well-equipped laboratory in Cohutta, Ga.

TNARI projects are partially supported by grants and contracts from federal, state and private agencies.

Role of students:
TNARI nurtures the professional development of talented young scientists by providing hands-on research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Results of these student internships are impressive. Many interns present their research findings at professional conferences and some publish results in scientific journals. Participation in TNARI's student intern program helps interns begin a career in a scientific field and/or helps them open the door to graduate school.

Selected projects:
Below are several examples of TNARI research projects and activities.

  • Reintroduction of sturgeon to the French Broad River --
    More than 6,000 lake sturgeon were released into the French Broad River below Douglas Dam in northeast Tennessee. The release is the beginning of a long-term, multi-partnered effort spearheaded by the TNARI to reintroduce these ancient fish into the upper Tennessee River system.
  • Imperiled mussels released into the Conasauga River --
    In August and September of 2000, TNARI released nearly 700 captive-raised mussels into the Conasauga River. This is part of a larger, ongoing effort to conserve mussels in the Conasauga and its tributaries.
  • Assessment of Turtle Species at Reelfoot Lake --
    Located in western Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake has historically been rich in numbers and types of freshwater turtles. To best manage this valuable resource, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency contracted TNARI scientists to assess the stability of Reelfoot's turtle population. Data collected during this study was used to construct a mathematical model of Reelfoot's turtle population to assess their stability. The results of this study are currently being used by the State of Tennessee to reassess its management strategy for the turtle population in this region.
  • Survey of Parasites of Freshwater Mussels in the Tennessee River --
    The Southeast is home to the greatest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world. In Tennessee, the harvest of freshwater mussels is a multi-million dollar industry that supports the cultured pearl industry. Unfortunately, many factors not related to this harvest have threatened many mussels, and today, about 71 percent of North America's freshwater mussel species are considered in peril.

    Efforts to save this valuable living resource include gathering critical life history about mussels. As part of these efforts, TNARI scientists from the Tennessee Aquarium and the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory have been contracted by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to conduct an ongoing survey of parasites that infect mussels in the Tennessee River.
  • North Chickamauga Creek Watershed Restoration Biomonitoring --
    Acid runoff from abandoned mines is one of the most widespread threats to aquatic ecosystems in the Southeast. In a multi-year biomonitoring project funded by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Aquarium, TNARI scientists from UTC and the Tennessee Aquarium are charting the progress of restoring water quality along 18 miles of creek within the scenic North Chickamauga watershed.
  • Flora Inventory of Lula Lake Trust in Northwestern Georgia --
    The Lula Lake Land Trust (LLLT) is a 742-acre scenic area on Lookout Mountain in northwest Georgia. Well known for its spectacular Lula Falls and Lula Lake, it represents a relatively undisturbed natural area and sanctuary for native animals and plants. TNARI researchers from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have recently completed an inventory of plants that grow on LLLT lands. Information from this inventory is necessary to assess local plant diversity and might someday be used in planning development outside of the trust.
  • Tennessee Cave Salamander Regional Population Assessment --
    The Tennessee cave salamander is currently listed as threatened by the TWRA and is under consideration for federal listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Because of its reclusive habits in the caves of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, little is known about where these salamanders live or how abundant they are. Their continued presence, however, is believed to be one indication of the overall well being of some fragile under-ground aquifers that provide drinking water to residents throughout the region. In collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Lincoln Memorial University, researchers from the Tennessee Aquarium have recently completed a distribution survey of cave salamanders in Chattanooga. Through this study, a new location for this rare salamander has been located.
  • Study of Stoneflies in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee --
    Stonefly larvae are important to many stream ecosystems because they provide food for other invertebrates and fish, and they also help process energy within important aquatic food webs. Because most stonefly species are also relatively intolerant of low oxygen levels, they are reliable indicators of some types of environmental change. In a study funded through a contract from the National Park Service, a TNARI biologist from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga surveyed the distribution of stonefly species in the Little Pigeon River and its tributaries within Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains. Results of this study were used to document variations in stonefly communities, which were correlated with various environmental factors.
  • Aquatic Fauna in Peril: The Southeastern Perspective --
    Written by conservation experts throughout the Southeast and edited by two TNARI biologists from the Tennessee Aquarium, this 554-page book details the environmental problems currently challenging the survival of aquatic organisms in the Southeast. In reviewing this book, E. O. Wilson of Harvard University stated, "This excellent volume is testimony of a paramount fact of American natural history: the aquatic fauna of the southeastern United States is one of the richest in the world, and it is also among the most threatened. Aquatic Fauna in Peril is definitive; a professional but very readable guide to both the fauna and its current status, analyzed down to the species level."
  • A Stakeholder's Guide to the Conasauga River of Georgia and Tennessee --
    The Conasauga River of Georgia and Tennessee is an extremely valuable natural resource that provides clean water to support recreational, industrial, agricultural and domestic opportunities. The Conasauga and its watershed also supply critical habitat for hundreds of species, some of which are found only here. Under a contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and with additional funds from The Nature Conservancy and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, TNARI biologists from the Tennessee Aquarium published a guide designed to educate the public about the importance of the Conasauga River and to inform concerned citizens how they can help preserve and restore the river's health.


The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $17.95 per adult and $9.50 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $22.95 for adults and $13.50 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.

Official Sponsor of Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Programs

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