Late December is typically a time to reflect on the big moments of the year. We certainly had those – our 25th anniversary and the opening of Lemur Forest to name a few - but this year we’re just as proud to highlight some of the stories you might have overlooked during the whirlwind year of 2017.
1) We helped discover Southern cavefish in an unexpected place! Sewanee’s Dr. Kirk Zigler reached out to Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute aquatic conservation biologist Dr. Bernie Kuhajda after a peculiar sighting in a Northwest Georgia cave. The two set out to investigate and what they found changed fish experts’ understanding of cavefish distribution in our area.
2) Our scientists mapped the Southeast’s rich underwater biodiversity as part of the Southeastern Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. After more than a year of data collection, analysis and mapping, the University of Georgia River Basin Center and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute published a comprehensive survey of aquatic animals in Southeastern watersheds.
3) We tested a possible link between climate change and salamander size in our region. When placed in artificially warmed water, some salamanders respond to the additional stress by — what else? — packing on the pounds. That’s the unexpected takeaway of a study by researchers from Sewanee: The University of the South, Southeast Missouri State University and the Tennessee Aquarium.
4) The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute evaluated the population health of Alligator Snapping Turtles in West Tennessee. In late June, Dr. Josh Ennen and researchers from partner organizations set out in search of an ancient behemoth species to determine its current population levels in the region.
5) We joined forces with 18 other zoos and aquariums to launch a nationwide effort to eliminate single-use plastic pollution. The In Our Hands campaign encourages the public to “skip the straw” and “bring a bag” as ways to reduce day-to-day plastic use. (Alongside this project, we also followed Dr. Andreas Fath as he set a new world record swimming the entire length of the Tennessee River while analyzing water quality.)
6) Aquarium herpetologists hatched two pair of rare Four-eyed and Beal’s Four-eyed turtles. These four brought the total of Beal’s and Four-eyed turtles hatched here at the Aquarium to 15 and 37, respectively. (Did you know? In 2007, the Tennessee Aquarium received national recognition as the first North American zoo or aquarium to hatch a Beal’s Four-eyed Turtle.)
7) We created the first ever map of North America’s turtle communities. One of the keys to protecting turtles is a better understanding of where they live and the role they play in their habitats. So...scientists at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute made a map.
8) Students from Gap Creek Elementary School helped us release hundreds of juvenile Lake Sturgeon back into the Tennessee River (where they joined over 200,000 more released since the year 2000.)
10) The Aquarium became a temporary shelter during Hurricane Irma for sea turtles and other species. After their home at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center was threatened by the approaching weather system, dozens of animals and staff made their way from Jekyll Island to Chattanooga where our Aquarist team was waiting at our Animal Care Facility with space and supplies to help them wait out the storm.