Join the #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge

By: Ric Urban, Senior Biologist

NEWPORT, Ky. — Mermaids are ambassadors for our marine environments and freshwater ecosystems. As they make their way to Newport Aquarium from around the world this week, it is the perfect time to kick-off our #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge. These mythical creatures will be swimming with their freshwater fish friends in the Amazon Tunnel through October 15. They’ll delight guests and share their conservation stories in daily meet-and-greets.

Mermaid Calliope

Mermaid Calliope took a break along the banks of Ohio River. The Ohio River is one of the largest watersheds in our region.

The #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge is one of the ways we bring awareness to the plastics we use every day and how we can work to reduce our dependency of plastics. The mermaids need us! Our oceans need us! Our rivers need us! Mermaids don’t like swimming with plastics.

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Seahorses don’t like swimming with plastic straws, and neither do mermaids.

Newport Aquarium is part of the Aquarium Conservation Partners (ACP) which is a first-of-its-kind collaboration created to increase the collective impact of aquariums on ocean and freshwater conservation. The ACP was founded by Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Aquarium, and Shedd Aquarium. These three major aquariums were joined by Newport Aquarium and 14 other aquariums throughout North America to make a change. Newport Aquarium and its ACP partners are committed to eliminating all plastic straws and single-use bags, and significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by 2020. We first told you about the In Our Hands campaign here on the blog, back in the summer.

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In Our Hands is a consumer campaign of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), a coalition of 19 U.S. aquariums taking action together to advance ocean and freshwater conservation.

When you visit Newport Aquarium to see the mermaids, you can share your stories with them in Shark Ray Bay Theater and tell them how you are ‘kicking the plastic’ habit. You can also see them swimming in the Amazon Tunnel, take a selfie with your refillable water bottle and the mermaid!

I have had some time to talk to the mermaids and hear their stories of where they live and the impact of plastic pollution on their underwater environments. Mermaid Coral is the protector of the coral reefs.

Newport Aquarium Mermaids

Mermaid Coral is the protector of the coral reefs.

While talking with her, I discovered the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs around the world are dying. The oceans are fun places to swim. Mermaid Coral and her mermaid sisters are entertained by us humans as we jump and play in the sun on the beach. A big problem for the merfolk is we use sunscreens that wash off in the water and harm the coral reefs. Mermaid Coral would like us to start using biodegradable sunscreens that will still protect us but not harm the reefs and the fishes that swim in the oceans.

Mermaid Calliope

Mermaid Calliope is from the Caribbean and does not like plastics. You can’t swim with her if you use plastics.

Mermaid Calliope is from the Caribbean and does not like plastics. You can’t swim with her if you use plastics. She loves metal re-usable straws. They get nice and cold and make her sweet tea “yummy.” Plastic straws are in the Top 10 of plastic debris found on the beaches and in the oceans. Many seabirds and mammals have ingested plastic straws that have harmed them.

Ninety percent of all the trash floating in the oceans is made of plastics. The #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge is our way as leaders and part of the ACP initiatives to reduce sources of plastic pollution in the ocean and freshwater ecosystems.  Our “plastic pollution” problem is not just an ocean problem or a freshwater problem.  Plastic Pollution starts as a land problem!

Join us in the #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge and tag us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to show how you are reducing your dependency on plastics. Everyone that shares with us will be registered for a raffle to win a “Plastic Free” Newport Aquarium package and a tour of the Newport Aquarium by yours truly.

Let’s take the #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge Together!

Takeover Tuesday: Behind the Scenes with Seahorses

Takeover Tuesday features a “day in the life” of biologists at Newport Aquarium. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Hi, I’m Sidney and I’m a Biologist at Newport Aquarium. One of my main focuses here is culturing live foods for animals like seahorse babies (called fry).

Live food

It’s important to culture live foods because they are generally much smaller in size than any of our frozen foods; so when we breed animals where their offspring are tiny, we ensure that we have food to feed them when they are born.

In the picture above, you can see me measuring the density of microalgae called Nannochloropsis. When it is dense enough, I can harvest it to feed to other microscopic live foods to make them more nutritious for the animals eating them.

black stripe pipefish

African freshwater pipefish

These are African freshwater pipefish. They are in the same exhibit as the opossum pipefish. Look closely for these, though. They are normally hiding under rocks or deep in the plants! The males have pouches just like male seahorses do to hold eggs. Sometimes, these pouches swell and turn a pretty blueish color.

Out of all the animals under my care, my personal favorite is the dwarf gulf pipefish I have lovingly named Hank.

Hank

Hank, featured in the center of this photo, is a dwarf gulf pipefish.

I found Hank in a live food delivery as bycatch when he was barely an inch long and cared for him until he was big enough to go on exhibit. Hank can be found in the dwarf seahorse exhibit, usually blending in with the tall grass around the shell.

Mysis

It’s breakfast time for the dwarf seahorses! What’s on the menu? Mysis!

Right now I am feeding the dwarf seahorse exhibit. This is mysis shrimp in my container, a small shrimp that comes frozen. We thaw it out and then feed it to our exhibits with measuring spoons so that we give the animals the perfect amount of food each time.

Every month or so, I dive into the freshwater pipefish exhibit to scrub algae. This exhibit has live plants in it, so after I scrub, I prune everything and divide a few of the java ferns and sword plants to transplant to different parts of the tank.

 

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Because of the columns in the center of this exhibit, diving to scrub can be challenging. I often end up in acrobatic positions just to reach some of the corners!

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Male pipefish, just like all male seahorses, carry the eggs. Thanks, dad!

These yellow pipefish are called opossum pipefish. They are one of two pipefish species in this exhibit and tend to stay in the middle of the water column. They eat mysis and brine shrimp and sometimes you can see some of the males carrying eggs on their undersides.

Once a week I dive in the paddlefish tank to give it a good scrubbing. It is pretty big – 6,500 gallons – so it usually takes me at least an hour.

above paddlefish

Getting ready to go into the paddlefish tank.

There are roughly 50 paddlefish in the tank with me but they tend to stay out of my way while I work. I appear blue in this photo due to the lighting over the tank. This color light is just for exhibit aesthetics and doesn’t serve a purpose for the paddlefish.

Thank you for joining me for today’s Takeover Tuesday!

 

Lionfish Derby 2017: Conservation and Education!

A group of volunteers from WAVE Foundation and Newport Aquarium just returned from a conservation trip to Sarasota, Florida. Newport Aquarium Dive Safety Officer, Diver LC  shows us the importance of the Lionfish Derby.

What is a lionfish derby? This is an event that was put together by REEF and hosted at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. During this one day event on July 8th, volunteers from WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium and staff from Newport Aquarium set out to remove as many lionfish from the ocean as possible.

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Lionfish are a venomous fish whose native home is in the Indo-Pacific. Photo Courtesy: REEF

I bet some of you are wondering why 18 people from an aquarium would want to travel 972 miles to remove a beautiful fish from the ocean! Lionfish are a venomous fish whose native home is in the Indo-Pacific. In the 1980’s, it is believed that some people with lionfish as pets released them into the Atlantic. Now, this invasive species population has exploded and they are taking over the habitat and food that the native species need to survive. Their habitat range is huge! Lionfish can live as shallow as the shoreline and as deep as over 1,000 feet and can live in water temperatures from 50 to 90 degrees! Not only that, but each lionfish can produce 2 MILLION EGGS IN A YEAR! They are sexually mature at 1 year and can live for around 30 years – that’s possibly 60 MILLION EGGS from one single female lionfish in a lifetime!

Scientists believe we will never stop the lionfish invasion; the best that we will ever be able to do is control the problem. That’s what we set out to do – to help control the problem! (It doesn’t hurt that they just so happen to be tasty too… more on that later).

Lionfish Derby group photo

Here is most of the WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium/Newport Aquarium crew at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium after the Captain’s meeting the night before the Lionfish Derby!

At the Captain’s Meeting, we were educated on lionfish biology, safe handling, treatment, and the rules of the Derby.

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We learn that through lionfish derbies, institutions like REEF will weigh and measure each fish and dissect the stomach contents of each fish. This gives scientists an idea of how well the fish are thriving, and also how many different types of animals they prey on.

The next morning, I joined 11 divers and set off with the wonderful crew at Blue Water Explorers. Everyone there was very helpful, friendly, and well educated on Florida’s ecosystem.

Ready to dive

Six snorkelers set out on their own to different locations and some of them saw barracuda, crab, reef fishes, and one even saw a manatee!

Each diver got to experience two dives in different locations in the Gulf. Some of us saw grouper, barracuda, rays, and many beautiful reef fishes.

We captured every lionfish we saw!

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After a long day of diving and snorkeling, most of us catch some z’s, relax on the beach, and grab a bite to eat at the St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.

The next morning, an educator from Mote takes us to a bay area for a Field Study. We aren’t just on a conservation trip, but an education trip too!

Field Study group

Group photo, getting ready for our Field Study. Our conservation trip is also educational!

Here the educator is teaching us all about Florida ecology in the bay and then she sends us in the water with nets to see what we can catch.

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The educator took a few of the best specimens to examine and put them in little Tupperware containers, so that we could get a better look. We caught whelk, sea stars, pinfish, pipefish, toadfish, and a sole. After the educator answered all of our questions, we released the animals back to their habitat.

After the Field Sampling, it is off to the Lionfish Derby Festival!

Lionfish Derby Festival

At the Lionfish Derby Festival. Jen and Matt turn in their lionfish to get measured and scored. Let’s see how they do!

At this station, a biologist is dissecting each fish and collecting the stomach contents to get DNA identification later on in a lab. One of our very own biologists assisted in a dissection!

Lionfish dissecting

We’re always learning. During the scoring, one of Newport Aquarium’s biologists assisted in a lionfish dissection!

 

After scoring, we went inside for the lionfish food contest. Five local restaurants made different lionfish dishes that will later be vote on by the tasters (a.k.a. us!). Of the dishes, there are raviolis, tacos, garlic toast, fried rice, and even a dessert all with lionfish. If you ask most of us, the garlic toast was the best!

lionfish food contest

Our “taste testers” Kathy, Diver Jon, and Erin, sample some of the lionfish dishes.

A representative from Whole Foods in Florida said it’s hard to keep up the demand for lionfish, which is a good problem to have! You can help if you are in Florida- go to www.myfwc.com for a fishing license to legally catch and sell lionfish to restaurants in Florida.

And now we wait for the awards ceremony!

If you think about it that is a potential 480 million baby lionfish that could have been produced by those eight fish. Thankfully, they were removed from the reef they were causing harm to!

Not only did we do our part to remove harmful lionfish and learn about Florida’s ecology during the Field Study, but we also picked up beach trash in our free time.

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‘Picking up trash on the beach is more enjoyable than picking up sea shells.’

I would like to share this email from one of our volunteer divers, Mark:

“Early this morning, a local name Bob stopped me for a brief conversation. He thanked me for removing the trash today. I noticed that Bob also had a reusable bag and he stated he gets up every morning to collect the trash on the beach. He stated it is great to see people like you (I pointed to the WAVE Foundation on my bag) and your organization picking up trash. Bob left me with a fantastic quote… ‘Picking up trash on the beach is more enjoyable than picking up sea shells. It’s a good feeling knowing you doing something to help and start your day out right.’”

Conservation starts with you and sometimes it is as easy as picking up trash that you see and sometimes it involves driving 972 miles and diving to 70 feet to capture venomous lionfish!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Takeover Tuesday: Raising a loggerhead sea turtle

Takeover Tuesday features a “day in the life” of biologists at Newport Aquarium. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Hello there, my name is Jen. I am a Senior Biologist here at Newport Aquarium. Thank you for joining me for this #TakeoverTuesday.

I started out at Newport Aquarium 13 years ago as a diver in the tunnel tanks and as a dive show presenter! Most of our divers are volunteers through the WAVE Foundation.

Jen Hazerres, dive suit

I’m getting into our acclimation tank ahead of a special dive training. I started out at Newport Aquarium as a volunteer diver with WAVE Foundation. To learn more about the Volunteer Dive Program, visit wavefoundation.org

Divers receive special training on how to safely interact with the fascinating aquatic animals who call this place home. After 4 years of diving I joined the staff as a part time presenter/biologist where I worked all around the aquarium. I eventually took on a full time position as a senior biologist where I now work with the animals in the shore gallery, shark tank and anywhere else I am needed.

As a biologist I have the pleasure of working with our loggerhead sea turtles here at Newport Aquarium.

Feeding Denver

Denver, our adult loggerhead sea turtle is about 24 years old and weighs about 205 pounds! His favorite foods include fish, squid and salmon which he eats regularly, about 3-5 days a week.

Denver lives in our 385,000 gallon “Surrounded by Sharks” exhibit. Visitors have the chance to get a glimpse of Denver close up as he swims around. Due to medical reasons, Denver will continue to serve as an ambassador animal for his kind, helping to educate visitors about sea turtles, while giving them the opportunity for such a unique interactive experience.

Frank our younger loggerhead sea turtle is here as a part of the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project.

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Dr. Hill helps take shell measurements during Frank’s checkup. Frank now weighs 1298 grams (2.8 pounds). Right after this checkup, he received the green light to move into a bigger tank.

Frank arrived in October of 2016 and weighed only 96 grams (0.2 pounds)! My job is to make sure Frank grows up healthy and strong as he trains for his release back into the ocean in a few months.

Frank just entered the bigger tank in the Shore Gallery. Turtle Tuesday is the perfect day to celebrate his new home. When Frank is big enough he will be released back into the ocean near the Gulf Stream! Stay tuned for our blog posts when we take Frank back out to the ocean, like we did with Shack last year.

While we’re making an impact with sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation, we’re also making a global impact with our Shark Ray Breeding Program and research here at Newport Aquarium. Our dedicated team of biologists has recently published a chapter on Shark Ray Husbandry.

We attribute part of our success in breeding due to their diet. Our four shark rays, Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike eat only the finest of seafood – it’s restaurant quality!

shark ray

We brought one of our shark rays, Scooter, into the acclimation tank.

The shark rays receive lobsters three days out of the week and bony fish two days of the week. Feeding the shark rays lobster is not common practice among many aquariums. Our high quality diets heavily contribute to the health and happiness of our animals.

Thank you for joining me today for #TakeoverTuesday. I hope I helped to spark an interest in these incredible animals, and how important it is to take care of their environment.

 

Takeover Tuesday: Meet Diver Jon

Takeover Tuesday features a “day in the life” of biologists at Newport Aquarium. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

My name is Jon Nonnenmacher and I am the Lead Dive Safety Officer for Newport Aquarium. My main job is making sure every volunteer or staff SCUBA diver is safe in and out of the water. Not only do I make sure that all the equipment is in working order and within safety standards, I also make sure that the dive team is up-to-date on safety requirements and procedures followed by OSHA.

Diver Jon

Jon Nonnenmacher is the Lead Dive Safety Office for Newport Aquarium. He joined the Dive Services program as an intern from Wright State University, and has been a Dive Safety Officer for 7 years.

I have been a SCUBA diver for 10+ years now and I am currently working on becoming a PADI dive instructor with our local dive shop named Scuba Unlimited in Blue Ash Cincinnati.

Diver Emergency Training
I joined the Dive Services program as an intern from Wright State University. After my internship was up, I loved being a volunteer for the aquarium, and committed at least two days every week to come down and volunteer. The Lead DSO at the time saw my passion for diving, and she decided to bring me on the dive team. I have been a DSO for 7 years and the Lead DSO for 2 years.

Rescue Diver Emergency Training (2)

Diver Emergency Training is training that all divers must go through to be a diver; this way if an emergency happens, the divers will know how to respond and what they can do to help the victim.

In this picture, you can see me leading a group of five volunteer divers through Diver Emergency Training. This is training that all divers must go through to be a diver; this way if an emergency happens the divers will know how to respond and what they can do to help the victim.

Passion for Shark Rays

My passion for the shark rays grew quickly while working at Newport Aquarium. With the approval of the Husbandry staff, I was given the opportunity to work with the shark rays. In this picture, you can see me getting close to our large female shark ray, Sweet Pea, and placing my hands on her.

Sweetpea and me (2)

Diver Jon works closely with the shark rays. With the help of the Husbandry staff, we are able to perform routine health evaluations in our shark tank acclimation pool.

We do this type to help the animal get used to having divers around them, and to make sure they’re not stressed. With the help of the Husbandry staff, we are able to perform routine health evaluations in our shark tank acclimation pool. You can see and learn more about our acclimation pool on a Behind the Scenes tour offered at Newport Aquarium.

Safety First

The main job of a Dive Safety officer is to make sure that all the divers are safe. We have about a dozen Husbandry staff divers and more than 100 WAVE dive service volunteers. The best part of the job is letting a new diver know when they are going into our Shark exhibit for the first time.

Diver Jon

“The smile and joy they have before and after the dive is always an awesome story.”

The smile and joy they have before and after the dive is always an awesome story. In this picture, you can see me helping  one of our husbandry/vet staff members get ready for a dive in the shark tank. I am making sure that all of her equipment is in working order by doing a buddy-check before she gets into the water.

Dive Equipment

Another fun aspect of my job is maintaining all the dive equipment and making sure it is in safe working condition. I have taken classes on servicing and repairing the 1st and 2nd stages of a regulator (that is how a diver can breathe the mix gases from his cylinder to his regulator) (mix gas in a cylinder is roughly 22% oxygen and 78% Nitrogen).

Dive Equipment

The main job of a Dive Safety officer is to make sure that all the divers are safe. We have about a dozen Husbandry staff divers and more than 100 WAVE dive service volunteers.

There are other types of mix gas blends for different types of diving, but at Newport Aquarium, we dive basic mix gas. I also take care of the maintenance of the cylinders, which include the valve that the air comes from. I work on gear from the Buoyance Compensator Device or BCD for short, to the Full Face Mask, which is the mask that divers wear underwater, and they can talk to the guests.

Dive Signals

In this picture you can see me giving an under dive sign. A clinched fist on top of your head means that the diver is “OK” and ready to start the dive or to signal to the topside divers that they are OK after a dive.

Diver Jon

A clinched fist on top of your head means that the diver is “OK” and ready to start the dive.

I am giving my topside Standby an OK sign before I go into the Shark tank exhibit for some basic maintenance. Next time you see a dive in the water be sure to give them a high-five and a big wave.

Check out our other #TakeoverTuesday posts.