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!

In Our Hands

By Ric Urban, Senior Biologist

Can you imagine a day when there is more plastic in the Oceans than fish and other marine life?

Newport Aquarium has joined 18 other aquariums around the country in a new initiative to “stand up” and take a stance against plastic pollution and our society’s dependency on single-use plastics.  Monterey Bay Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium and the National Aquarium are the founders of this movement that invited Newport Aquarium to join other notable aquariums across the United States in this collaboration known as the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) in 2016.

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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.

This summer’s campaign is called “In Our Hands” and the mission is to encourage our guests and our communities to reduce their plastic use and find alternatives.  The ACP is setting a goal to eliminate or reduce plastic beverage bottles in our respective institutions by 2020.

Each member has already eliminated plastic straws and single-use bags, and intends to “significantly reduce or eliminate” other plastics over the next few years.  Our Aquariums want to set the example in our communities that we are concerned and want to make a difference.

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All known species of sea turtle ingest or are entangled by plastic in their lifetimes. aquariums in turning the tide, at http://www.ourhands.org #SkipTheStraw #LoseTheLid

The members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership are also members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  More than180 million visitors visit zoos and aquariums each year and our aquariums have a responsibility to educate of visitors of the dangers of plastic pollution and the effects it has on our freshwater and marine environments. New studies have shown more than 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean every year and the number is expected to double by 2025.  In the United States alone, plastic waste averages more than 200 pounds per person each year.  The Aquarium Conservation Partnership members are not only raising awareness about plastic pollution, promoting behavioral changes with our guests, but also working with business partners and vendors to share good alternatives to single-use plastics and introduce new products and materials.

Our choices are transforming the ocean, lakes, and rivers

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Plastic is now found in almost every marine habitat on Earth, and we’re producing more than we can sustainably manage. Source: A. Lusher, Microplastics in the marine environment: distribution, interactions and effects, Marine Anthropogenic Litter, 2015.

Change takes time

You can help make a difference. Every time you go to the grocery store and every time you drink a bottle of water or soda.  By changing to a re-useable water bottle, you’re making a healthy change in your personal lifestyle and making a life-saving contribution to our planet. Last year, the U.S. used about 50 billion plastic water bottles; that is nearly 200 per person.

reusable water bottle

Our everyday choices are transforming the ocean – but the solution to the plastic problem is #InOurHands. Find out how you can help at www.ourhands.org

Where do all these water bottles go?  Are they recycled?  Studies say no.  Only 23 percent of the plastic bottles were recycled, meaning this plastic was ending up in our landfills or in our waterways.

 

It is time for all of us to “accept the challenge” to reduce our dependency on single-source plastics.  Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask for paper bags at the grocery store or bring your own re-useable tote bags
  • Skip the Straw at places you eat. Ask the staff not to bring straws to you or put them in your drinks.
  • Drink your beer from the tap or buy beer in growlers at the store. This reduces your use of cans and bottles and less recycling.
  • Start using a re-useable water bottle.
  • Reduce, Re-Use, and Recycle – every little bit helps

Join Newport Aquarium and the Aquarium Conservation Partners in making this change to “Save Wild Animals and Save Wild Spaces.” Take pictures and tell us how you’re doing your part and we’ll share them on social media. Remember to use #InOurHands with your posts.

Ric is skipping the straw

We’ve eliminated plastic straws and bags, because we love our sea animals. Visit http://www.ourhands.org and find out what you can do for your favorite aquatic creature.

For more information on the “In Our Hands” campaign, visit:  www.ourhands.org.

Ric-Urban-portrait-120x120About Ric: Ric has more than 30 years experience working in AZA-accredited institutions. He will be presenting in two sessions at the upcoming 2017 AZA Annual Conference: Consume for Conservation and  Using Innovative Science to Refine Conservation Actions. Ric is the Project Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Program. He also holds a seat on the AZA African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) and Penguin Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Steering Committees, and is a member of the AZA’s Animal Welfare Committee.

It’s Time to Reforest Northern Kentucky

Details:  The 10th Annual Reforest NKY event will be March 25, 2017 at the Piner property of Big Bone Lick State Park.  More information here.  All are welcome – from those who have no tree experience or knowledge to those in a life-long career in arboriculture.   If you like trees, you’ll fit right in.

By Ric Urban, Newport Aquarium

Spring is here officially and Reforest NKY is heading out to Big Bone Lick State Park to plant trees in an effort to bring some old farmland back to its natural state.  This year Reforest NKY has partnered with the Center for Environmental Restoration in planting one of their projects along Gum Branch Creek.  The site has been prepared and the stream restored to its original flow, which includes a newly restored wetlands area.

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Reforest Northern Kentucky is a successful, sustainable event.  Since 2007, more than 36 acres of protected public park and school land have been planted with native woodland trees and nearly 3,000 volunteers have participated.  Image courtesy of Northern KY Urban and Community Forestry Council

We have a water story to tell when planting trees.  Trees are important for stream and river health.  Have you ever spent time walking along a stream, to see a crayfish or a minnow darting along in the current? There is something about listening to the breeze through the leaves, being shaded from the sun and checking out all of the cool creatures that live in this watery habitat.

Throughout Northern Kentucky there are streams, creeks and rivers that have trees lining the waterways.  This is called the “riparian zone.” This riparian ecosystem is made up of trees, shrubs and plants that filter the water before it enters the stream, prevents soil erosion and sediment pollution in the waterway, and also creates shaded areas, keeping the streams cool and livable for the aquatic species. So putting it simply, trees save fish.

The WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium is working with the Northern Kentucky Urban and Forestry Council (NKYUFC) to increase our public education and awareness of the importance of trees in our communities. By planting trees and preserving our riparian (riverbank) zones, we are improving our environments, creating clean and safe waterways and enhancing our quality of life.

On Saturday, March 25th, 2017, the Northern Kentucky Urban and Forestry Council will be hosting its Annual Reforest NKY Event at Big Bone Lick State Park in Boone County. This is the 10th year that Reforest NKY has planted trees throughout Northern Kentucky.  Nearly 3,000 volunteers have participated in planting thousands of tree seedlings in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

trees

Come out and join us planting trees on Saturday, the weather is going to be great!  Come dressed to get muddy and bring an extra pair of shoes for the trip back home.  Image courtesy of Northern KY Urban and Community Forestry Council.

The next time you’re at Newport Aquarium, check out the Water Story, which shows how important a role healthy streams and rivers play in our everyday lives.

Let’s Discover the Wonder…. Together – Plant a Tree and Save a Fish.

African Penguin Awareness Days Oct. 8 – 16 at Newport Aquarium

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

Newport Aquarium is celebrating African Penguin Awareness Week October 8th  through October 16th. On Saturday, October 8th we are kicking off African Penguin Awareness Day with an entire week focused on African Penguins. During this week, we want to tell the story of the African Penguins and what the WAVE Foundation and the Newport Aquarium are doing to prevent the species from moving closer to extinction. From Saturday October 8th-Sunday October 16th we are donating every “Dollar for Conservation” that we get to SANCCOB’s disaster relief and chick-rearing efforts.

African penguins

Over the past decade there has been a dramatic drop in the population for African Penguins. In 2006, there was estimated to be over 100,000 African Penguins in South Africa. Today it is estimated to be less than 50,000 birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Why have numbers dropped so drastically?  The answer is not very simple since there are several different levels of influence on the population.  But two areas to focus would be competition for food with the fishing industry and the oil industry.

Competition For Food
The Benguela marine ecosystem is one of the richest in sardines and anchovies in the world and located off the coast of South Africa and the breeding colonies of the African Penguins.  This is a main food choice for African Penguins.  However, there is competition for food for the African Penguins; this area is also heavily fished by commercial fisheries. The competition with the fisheries and warming sea waters, forces the birds to travel further out to sea to catch fish in order to feed the chicks on the nest.

The additional travel for the adult birds only compounds the situations, expending more energy requires more food for them and their chicks. This means more time in the ocean, and the threat of predators, both at sea and on land.  At sea, the adults can fall prey to Cape fur seals and sharks.  On land, the chicks and eggs can be eaten by Kelp Gulls and small carnivores that have access to mainland colonies.

The Oil Industry
The oil industry has just increased their goals for production and the construction of more oil rigs in the region.  In 2000, the MV Treasure sank in Table Bay, South Africa.  This event caused the oiling of over 19,000 African Penguins.  Crude oil is dangerous for the penguins; it breaks down the natural water-proofing of the birds while at sea.  The oil causes them to become water-logged, hypothermic, disoriented and sometimes not able to make it back to shore.  Once on shore, the penguins will begin to preen themselves; ingesting the oil, becoming ill and potentially dying if not helped.  Rescuing oiled African penguins is a regular occurrence in South Africa.
Making A Difference
The WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium promotes and raises funds to support SANCCOB (The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) in Cape Town.  SANCCOB rescues, rehabilitates and releases approximately 1,000 African Penguins a year affected by oil.  The staff and volunteers of SANCCOB dedicate themselves every day to the African Penguins and other sea birds.  They need our support.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) initiated a program in 2015 called SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction); targeting 10 endangered species around the world.  Collaborative Conservation will identify and prioritize the needs of a species and build a 3-year Conservation Action Plan (CAP).

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium, was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium, was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

The Newport Aquarium is playing an integral part of this conservation plan.  Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) Tags are being used as part of the Individual Identification Project that the Newport Aquarium is responsible for coordinating.  A collaboration of AZA Partners – The Racine Zoo, Northeastern Zoo of Wisconsin, the Maryland Zoo, Sea World and the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium as well as our South African Partners are working together to individually identify 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years. PIT Tagging will allow biologists to assess longevity and survival, nest site, natal site and mate fidelity, inter-colony movement, and many other metrics that will be helpful to management of the species.

Now is the time to Act – you can make a difference during African Penguin Awareness Week.  Everyone can contribute to the conservation of African Penguins by visiting the Newport Aquarium.  By visiting the Newport Aquarium Gift Shop, you can make a contribution to “Dollars to Conservation” when you purchase anything in the store, or you can just make a donation at the desk.  All the proceeds during this week to “Dollars for Conservation” will go directly to support SANCCOB and the rescue, rehabilitation and release of African Penguins.

The African Penguin is an endangered species, threatened with extinction that needs our help.  You can learn more about how to contribute by visiting, www.wavefoundation.org or www.AZASavingSpecies.org

Saving penguins in South Africa

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

Our AZA African Penguin Tagging Team moves from the mainland to Robben Island. They’re spending 12 days in South Africa, tagging penguins and gathering data on Africa’s endangered penguins. The team includes Mike McClure from Maryland Zoo and Kylene Plemons from Sea World San Diego. Over the 12 days, the team is visiting a couple of penguin rescue and rehabilitation facilities as well as collecting data in three penguin colonies; the Robben Island colony, the Boulder’s Beach colony and the Stony Point colony.

Boulders colony 1

Experts from SeaWorld and the Maryland Zoo traveled to South Africa to work alongside the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in an effort to help tag the endangered African penguin. The trip is part of the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction African Penguin Conservation Action Plan. Since the early 1900’s the population of African penguins in the wild has dropped by a staggering 97%.

Robben Island
After a couple days of orientation and training at SANCCOB, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team headed out to stay with the colony on Robben Island. Robben Island was once the site of the prison which held Nelson Mandela and once a thriving population of African penguins.  With the introduction of invasive species and introduced species such as house cats and rabbits, the penguin population has plummeted to approximately 3,000 birds.

Logging field work

Experts from SeaWorld and the Maryland Zoo traveled to South Africa to work alongside the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in an effort to help tag the endangered African penguin. The trip is part of the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction African Penguin Conservation Action Plan. Since the early 1900’s the population of African penguins in the wild has dropped by a staggering 97%.

Saving Species
While staying on Robben Island, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team will be working with Dr. Richard Sherley, from University of Exeter.  Dr. Sherley has been studying African Penguins on Robben Island since 2007. His research focuses on the nesting success, survival and dispersal of seabirds to understand the impact of anthropogenic and environmental change in marine ecosystems.

The AZA African Penguin Tagging Team was able to tag and collect data on 53 penguins on Robben Island.  It was an impressive number for Dr. Sherley and Dr. Katrin Ludynia, field biologist for SANCCOB and the University of Cape Town.

MarylandZoo MMcClure

Maryland Zoo Curator Mike McClure spent the day tagging penguin chicks.

In an email, Mike McClure said, “Yesterday was very successful as we located and checked about half of the nests we were looking for. We transpondered 22 birds (6 adults and 16 fledglings) and gathered a lot of raw data on each bird. We also learned more about the project than we could ever do had we not been here in person.”

nesting penguins

The field conditions are quite harsh, penguins find areas to nest in dense, thorny underbrush which is a great defense against predators and provides protection from the weather.

The field conditions are quite harsh, penguins find areas to nest in dense, thorny underbrush which is a great defense against predators and provides protection from the weather.  Therefore it makes it difficult to locate the nests, and capture and collect data on the birds.

 

Boulder’s Beach
After spending several days on Robben Island, it was time to return to the mainland and head to Boulder’s Beach. Boulder’s Beach is one of the few mainland colonies of African penguins. Over 700,000 visitors come to see the penguins at Boulder’s annually. This colony is threatened by predation from wild and domestic animals, parasites, disturbance by guests and being hit by vehicles.

Boulders penguins in surf

Boulder’s Beach is one of the few mainland colonies of African penguins. Over 700,000 visitors come to see the penguins at Boulder’s annually.

At the time of writing this Blog, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team was traveling to Gansbaii, which is home to the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) and the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS).  The APSS is another rescue and rehabilitation facility for African penguins and seabirds along the South African Coastline.  There, the team is going to work with African Penguins at APSS and learn about their programs for rehabilitation and release of the penguins.

After spending the weekend in Gansbaii, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team will be heading back toward Cape Town to Betty’s Bay and Stony Point. Stony Point sits on this coastal bay and is home to the only penguin colony that is presently increasing in population.  This area is managed by our partners, Cape Nature.  Habitat restoration is important and the removal invasive plants have improved the area for the penguins.  This beach also sees a seasonal increase of penguins in November, when birds come from their island nesting colony to gorge on fish and molt. After the molt, they head back to their island colony for breeding and nesting.

There has been much learned and much more to learn in future trips to work with the field biologists, rangers and researchers.  The information gathered should help support management decisions and improve habitats for the nesting colonies. The goals will be set higher for 2017 and I hope to be reporting to all of our supporters from South Africa next spring on the successes of the AZA African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

If you are interested in helping support our efforts in protecting the African Penguins, you can:

  • Contribute to the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium (wavefoundation.org) to support the AZA African Penguin Tagging Project
  • Participate in a “Penguin Encounter” at the Newport Aquarium. A portion of the proceeds of your encounter benefit the Aquatic Conservation Fund.
  • “Round-Up” your purchase in the gift shop to support the “Dollars for Conservation” program
  • Adopt” a Penguin online from the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium
  • Download the Seafood Watch App and contribute to eating sustainable seafood
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – reducing our dependency for plastic will help lower the amount of plastic pollution in the environment around us and in our oceans

Read more about the African Penguin PIT Tagging Project in Part 1: Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium leads efforts in saving African penguins

Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium leads efforts in saving African penguins

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

African penguins

African penguins are an endangered species. It is projected that this species can become extinct in the next 10-15 years

One of my favorite animals at  Newport Aquarium is our African Penguins.  People love to see our penguins and since 2007 when we first brought African Penguins to the Aquarium nearly a million people have seen these birds, whether it has been “on the road” at special events and television interviews or the behind-the-scenes experience in our Penguin Encounter.  The penguins are great ambassadors and very popular.

However, African Penguins are an endangered species. We have watched a steady decline of the African Penguins since the late 1950’s when there were around 300,000 individuals in South Africa. In 2001, there were over 100,000 individuals and recently it has been estimated that there are less than 50,000 penguins left in their range country.  In October, 2010, the USFWS listed African Penguins as an Endangered Species. This species is only 2½% of what it was 80 years ago. It is projected that this species can be extinct in the next 10-15 years. We cannot allow this to happen.

Saving African Penguins
This spring, I was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.  For short, we’ll call it the “PIT tag Project”. Through a partnership of African agencies and AZA Zoo and Aquarium partners, the goal has been set to individually identify African penguin chicks and adults at selected colonies each year. Penguins set to be released from rehabilitation centers will also be tagged. Our goal is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years. Essentially that will be around 5,000 birds tagged and identified in South Africa and Namibia.

The goal of the PIT tagging project is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years.

The goal of the PIT tagging project is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years.

Once the African penguins are tagged, researchers will be able to identify individual birds with hand-held readers. Technology also allows us to track birds by using ground/strip readers which are installed near the breeding colonies which will provide continuous data collection. All this information will give AZA and the field biologists the data to develop the most effective programs to manage the colonies and other areas of African penguin conservation.

There are 50 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums which house African penguins and many more house other penguin species. This creates a great opportunity for many AZA Members (keepers and veterinarians) who have experience handling and caring for these animals. With this valuable experience our AZA community is able to help with tagging penguins by sponsoring qualified individuals to travel to South Africa to participate in tagging programs.

The ‘tagging season’ for African Penguins in the colonies is from April through August.  This is the time that the penguins are molting and or nesting. With the ‘window of opportunity’ closing for this year, our project partners, the Maryland Zoo and Sea World San Diego, each had a staff member able to go to South Africa and participate in the first AZA SAFE PIT Tagging Team.

The rest of the year (September – March), the tagging is done in the rescue and rehabilitation centers when orphaned or injured penguins are brought into the facilities.  Once back to health, the birds are PIT tagged and released.

Our 2016 Inaugural AZA SAFE African Penguin PIT Tagging Team was selected from our Collaborating Partners.  On July 20th, Mike McClure from the Maryland Zoo and Kylene Plemons from Sea World San Diego set out to Cape Town, South Africa and 12 days with African Penguins. In South Africa, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team will visit a couple of penguin rescue and rehabilitation facilities as well as collecting data in 3 penguin colonies; the Robben Island colony, the Boulder’s Beach colony and the Stony Point colony.

African penguin

Every penguin receiving a ‘PIT” tag, will also be measured, weighed, blood drawn and feathers collected for DNA.

The first stop is in Table View, a community outside of Cape Town, which is the home of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).  SANCCOB rescues, rehabilitates and releases hundreds of penguins and other seabirds each year. At SANCCOB, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team received valuable instructions on how to approach and handle a wild penguin safely. The team was also trained on data collection on every penguin handled. Every penguin receiving a ‘PIT” tag, will also be measured, weighed, blood drawn and feathers collected for DNA. At SANCCOB, the Team meets Dr. Katrin Ludynia, field biologist for SANCCOB and the University of Cape Town. Dr. Ludynia will be their liaison for the trip since she is the primary researcher on the AZA African Penguin Tagging Project.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Penguins on Robben Island.

Newport Aquarium and AZA SAFE Partners

Shark Ray Pups Born at Newport Aquarium Will Make Public Debut on June 24, 2016

In Honor Of World Ocean’s Day, Aquarium Makes Historic Announcement

Today, in honor of World Oceans Day, Newport Aquarium announced that the rare shark rays born earlier this year are ready to make their public debut. This will be the first time the five month old shark ray pups have been on exhibit.  The public is invited to see them in the aquarium’s 55,000 gallon Coral Reef tunnel exhibit beginning Friday, June 24.

Since being born on January 5, the shark ray pups have received care from Newport Aquarium biologists, who have closely monitored them and attended to every need.

See shark ray pups being weighed, measured and fed in this video

“It’s getting more and more difficult for shark rays to survive in their natural environment,” said Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium. “Without the work Newport Aquarium is doing, long-term survival of this species wouldn’t be possible.”

Programs like Newport Aquarium’s Shark Ray Breeding Program are important, because the world’s shark ray population is depleting at a faster rate than it is being replaced. This is due to habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing and the use of their fins for products like fin soup.

Aquarium biologists will determine the exact number of pups that will go into the Coral Reef tunnel exhibit as June 24 draws nearer.

Shark Ray Breeding Program Background
In October 2015, Newport Aquarium announced both its female shark rays, Sweet Pea and Sunshine were pregnant– the second and third documented cases of shark ray breeding under professional animal care in the world. Sweet Pea became the first documented shark ray to become pregnant in 2013. In January 2016, Sweet Pea gave birth to 9 shark ray pups. Five survived, which is not uncommon with similar species, like sharks.  Sunshine’s pregnancy did not come to full term.

World Oceans Day
Every year, World Oceans Day provides a unique opportunity to honor, help protect, and conserve the world’s oceans. Learn more about World Oceans Day here.

$5 Kid Saver Special
Families can make a splash this summer with Newport Aquarium’s Kid Saver Special. Now through June 30th, 2016, up to two kids get in for $5 each with every adult paying full price, Sunday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. for tickets purchased online.

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On World Penguin Day—and Every Day – AZA-Accredited Aquariums and Zoos are Working to Save Species

Today is World Penguin Day, and in honor of these species, aquariums and zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are raising awareness to help the future of this beloved species.African penguins 2

AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos work not only for the penguins in their care, but also actively participate in efforts to help save them in the wild and to contribute to the scientific understanding of these species.

Paula Shark Wall

Paula the African penguin, pauses for a photo opp in front of Shark Wall.

“Here at Newport Aquarium, we engage our guests daily through a penguin parade and our penguin encounters; we educate them about the plight of the African penguin. Hopefully through our efforts, we can create awareness that will save the penguins,” said Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium.

There are six penguin species at Newport Aquarium – African, King, Gentoo, Macaroni, Southern Rockhopper and Chinstrap. Currently, all 18 of the world’s penguin species are legally protected from hunting and egg collection, but they continue to face threats. In particular, African penguins have seen a large decrease in population size and are listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™. In the last 100 years, African penguin breeding pairs, which numbered almost one million at the beginning of the 20th century, have dropped to approximately 25,000 – a 97 percent decrease. Reasons for this decline include oil spills; a loss of nest burrow sites due to historical harvest of penguin droppings in breeding colonies; and a reduction in prey due to commercial fishing.

Between 2010 and 2014, more than 30 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums took part in or supporting field conservation projects benefitting African penguins. During those five years, the AZA community invested almost a half million dollars in African penguin conservation.

AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos frequently provide financial support to field conservation partners such as Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), which provides high-quality rehabilitation and veterinary services to African penguins and other seabirds in need. SANCCOB also has a strong focus on raising awareness about endangered seabirds through conservation education programs and research projects, many of which have an AZA-accredited member as a collaborator.

Penguin Palooza

Newport Aquarium’s Penguin Palooza includes five species of cold-weather penguins including the Gentoo, King, Macaroni, Southern Rockhopper and Chinstrap.

In 2012, Ric Urban and WAVE Conservation Manager, Alle Barber (Alle Foster at the time), joined a small group of scientists on a penguin conservation trip to Peru to help protect endangered seabirds. Read more about their journey here.

Additionally, AZA aquariums and zoos, and other like-minded organizations, are collaborating through a bold effort focused on saving species from extinction and restoring them in their natural ranges. AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of engaging 183-million annual AZA-accredited aquarium and zoo visitors with the collective expertise of these facilities and their conservation partners to save signature species, including the African penguin. SAFE also provides a unique platform for AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos to increase the impact of their field conservation efforts and conservation contributions.

“World Penguin Day is the perfect day for people to get involved. While the number of African penguins has drastically declined, the good news is that by taking conservation actions, we can still make a difference in saving these species. However, we can’t do this alone, and we hope that others who care deeply about penguins–and the other species connected to their ecosystem—will join us in helping them,” said Urban.

Penguin painting

African penguins just finished painting these masterpieces, all of which you can purchase in the Newport Aquarium gift shop. Proceeds help the WAVE Foundation.

To help make a difference on World Penguin Day and every day, the public is encouraged to:

  • Purchase a one-of-a-kind hands-on experience with these amazing birds through a Penguin Encounter
  • Purchase original penguin artwork from our in-house Picassos – our African penguins created these masterpieces that you can order online or buy in Newport Aquarium’s gift shop
  • Buy sustainable seafood. Check out Seafood Watch for sustainable food selections.
  • Share messages about African penguins on social media to help raise awareness. Be sure to use the hashtag #SavingSpecies

For more information about AZA SAFE and how to help African penguins and other species, please visit: http://azaanimals.org/savingspecies/.

“Let’s Do It” on Earth Day!

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium

It’s that time of the year; spring is here! And we’re celebrating Earth Day 2016!

This is the time of the year where everyone wants to make a difference and do something good for the planet. It’s just like the New Year’s Resolution: we say we’re going to exercise, we’re going to lose weight – hopefully you’re still on track with your goals, that’s great!
IMG_1814Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water. Our oceans hold up to 97% of all of this water! If we’re doing the math correctly here, that means Earth Day is mostly about the water!

 

Oak Tree Sapling

So when we plant a tree or recycle our cereal box, we’re saving the oceans and rivers. Plant a Tree and Save a Fish!

Today, I want everyone to make another resolution and take the “Let’s do it Recycle Paper Pledge.” Did you know, according to the US EPA, paper and paperboard products make up the largest portion of solid waste sent to a landfill?Lets-Do-It-Recycle-Logo

We should be recycling paper – it’s easy and simple. We can all be a part of something big even in our region by recycling at home and at the office. In the Greater Cincinnati Area, the Green Umbrella Waste Reduction Action Team has set a goal to reduce the paper waste in landfills by 30% by the year 2020. Reducing paper waste in landfills reduces the greenhouse gas emissions, conserves natural resources and saves landfill space.

I think everyone can take a few seconds and take the pledge – I have!  I also want everyone to tag Newport Aquarium through Facebook and Twitter, showing us how you are doing something special for Earth Day 2016!

Find us on Twitter:
@NewportAquarium
@RicUrbanNAQ

#LetsDoItRecycle! @LetsDoItRecycle

Newport Aquarium is a member of Green Umbrella in Cincinnati. It is a nonprofit organization that works through volunteers to maximize environmental sustainability through member organizations and individuals.

Seahorses: Unbridled Fun

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium

The Kentucky Derby is only weeks away and Newport Aquarium is bringing ‘horses’ of a different kind to Northern Kentucky. After months of anticipation, Seahorses: Unbridled Fun opens to the public April 9th. Newport Aquarium staff has been working around the clock, creating the most interactive seahorse exhibit you’ve ever seen. Guests can discover 10 species of seahorses and their relatives from the family of Sygnathids – which includes Sea Dragons, Pipefish, Razorfish, Trumpetfish and Seahorses.

Weedy Sea Dragons

Weedy Sea Dragons

Seahorse Characteristics

Seahorses and their relatives can be found around the world. They live in mangrove forests, coastal seagrass and coral reefs. In Seahorses: Unbridled Fun, guests can discover the unique characteristics seahorses have that equip them to live in these environments. Seahorses use their tail to grab and hold onto corals and grasses. They have eyes that work independently like chameleon eyes. Seahorses can hover and swim with the agility of a hummingbird.

In the exhibit, guests can design their own seahorse using custom computer technology. Each guest can use these unique characteristics and build a seahorse to email home or to friends.

IMG_1526

The Barbour’s Seahorse

Seahorse Threats

There are several threats to seahorses around the world. What can you do to protect these amazing creatures? Maybe the easiest is to start eating shrimp – responsibly. You have to know where your shrimp is coming from and how it’s raised.

Seahorses and other marine life are caught in nets used in fishing for shrimp. Wild shrimp are caught through ‘trawl netting’ which is bad for the marine environments. Trawlers drag the seabed catching everything in their path and destroying the habitat.

Download the Seafood Watch App. This is one of the best ways to quickly find out more about the fish or shrimp that you’re ready to buy, and you can check if it is sustainable. Start looking for freshwater shrimp or prawns. This species does not have such an impact on the marine ecosystems and coastal waters.

Ribboned Sea Dragons

Ribboned Sea Dragons

Coral reefs and coastal seagrass habitats are home to many seahorse species. These marine environments are impacted even here in Newport Aquarium’s Tri-State region. From Banklick Creek to the Licking River, to the Ohio and eventually down to the Gulf of Mexico, our waterways will affect the oceans. What we do locally can make a global difference.

Seahorses are a good example of an indicator species. If the habitat is healthy, seahorses are seen in abundance and thriving. If the habitat is struggling with environmental threats, there will be few to no seahorses to be found.

I would like to invite everyone to come and discover the wonder of seahorses together with your families and have some “Unbridled Fun.”