From making memories to fighting plastic pollution, welcoming new friends (plus new creatures) and more - we're counting down just a few of the things that made 2018 a fin-tastic year at the Aquarium.
1) Millions of Guests, Photos, and Memories
In November, we celebrated a major milestone with the arrival of our 25-millionth guest since opening in 1992. An unforeseen travel delay in their travel to Chattanooga - for their first-ever visit to the Aquarium - ended up putting Amanda, Michael, Michael, Jacob, and Taylor Roe from Bristol, TN in the right place at the right time.
We're so proud to have been a part of so many happy memories and an important part of Chattanooga's remarkable success.
2) Fabien Cousteau Celebrates Freshwater Conservation Efforts
We were so honored to host ocean explorer and conservation hero Fabien Cousteau! He met with Aquarium guests at two special events in support of the Aquarium’s conservation initiatives. Cousteau even explored one of the region’s most biologically diverse rivers while snorkeling with Aquarium staff.
3) Restoring Species
Our team of conservation scientists continued their work on propagation projects for several threatened species found in our area. Perhaps most notably, this year marked the 20th anniversary for the Lake Sturgeon Work Group, which was founded by a group of scientists to bring the Lake Sturgeon back in its native waters. Since that time, over 220,000 juvenile sturgeon have been reintroduced to the Tennessee River system.
Read more: Brook Where They Belong: Tennessee Aquarium, Partners Release Hundreds of Native Trout Into Appalachian Streams
Off the Ropes: Hundreds of Endangered Laurel Dace Hatch at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute
4) New Animals
On Thanksgiving Day, Aquarists introduced several Cownose Rays to the Secret Reef. These eight engaging elasmobranchs have been delighting guests ever since. A group of mesmerizing Bigfin Reef Squid had a cephalo-positive effect on the Boneless Beauties gallery while three new Crocodile Lizards rocked Rivers of the World.
5) Groundbreaking Research from the Conservation Institute
From predicting how climate shifts could affect native salamander communities, to studying the global impact of declining turtle species and assessing the state of two endangered darter species in Alabama (among numerous other ongoing projects), the scientists at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute have had a busy year!
6) Aquarium Babies
This year’s group of Aquarium babies proved that you don’t have to be fuzzy to win the hearts of Aquarium fans.
7) Sensory Inclusion Initiative
Throughout the year, the Aquarium partnered with KultureCity, a nationally-recognized non-profit that works with visitor-serving organizations to revolutionize and bring about change in the community for individuals with sensory needs. After introducing quiet areas, sensory bags and other suggested components, we became the first attraction in the state to receive a sensory inclusive designation.
8) Introducing the Freshwater Information Network
In the past, scientists have relied on collections of preserved specimens housed at museums and academic institutions to serve as verified records of where a species has been found in the Southeastern United States. Now, the Freshwater Information Network (FIN) makes this information easily accessible and more efficient to update.
9) Supporting Solutions for Our Local Waterways
We joined forces with more than 20 top aquariums for the First Step campaign, encouraging the public to Skip the Straw as a first step in helping fight this growing problem affecting virtually all of the world’s aquatic environments.
In addition to highlighting a serious plastic problem at Chattanooga Creek, we also partnered in TenneSwim – a project by German scientist Dr. Andreas Fath, which identified extremely high levels of microplastics in the Tennessee River.
In October, we also hosted the 30th annual Tennessee River Rescue, a project that now engages more than 800 volunteers a year from Bradley, Hamilton, and Marion counties.
10) New Island Life Exhibit Announcement
In late summer, the Aquarium announced that the Jellies: Living Art exhibit would close to make way for the upcoming Island Life exhibit in the Ocean Journey building. In this new gallery, guests will explore many kinds of islands and the stunning variety of animals they support. From colorful fish schooling below a thundering wave to psychedelic Panther Chameleons, crimson Tomato Frogs, and bioluminescent Flashlight Fish, this exhibit will be as fun as it is illuminating. Special activities such as the ability to weave through anemone tentacles like a Clownfish will make this new gallery especially popular with kids. Look for more updates soon on this new exhibit opening in March 2019!