Friday, April 5th, the Chamber staff embarked on a team building day across the bay. We caught the 10:00 AM Crossbay Ferry ride, and enjoyed the breeze as the sun slowly peaked out over the water. As the ferry picked up speed and downtown St. Pete disappeared in the fog, Tampa Bay’s skyline offered a warm welcome to an adventurous Friday.
The Crossbay Ferry conveniently disembarks in the at the Port of Tampa right in heart of the lively Channelside where food, entertainment, and shops are easily accessible to pedestrians and cyclists that arrived by ferry. The Chamber crew walked over to Sparkman Wharf to enjoy an array of delicious eats in the shaded biergarten, before taking the short walk back to the Florida Aquarium just in time for our behind the scenes tour on the roof visiting their coral reef habitat, heart of the sea habitat, and live coral reef farm.
Coral Reef Habitat
As the largest habitat at the Florida Aquarium, requiring 5,000 gallons of water, 300 gallons are filtered every hour. Modeled after the Dry Tortuga’s, the habitat is composed of faux coral, as live coral throughout the facility would take too much out of the wild natural habitat, thousands of years to grow, and would be compromised by too many people entering the water for shows and maintenance.
In order to stay abreast in the latest science and research efforts, the Florida Aquarium has a coral reef farm on their rooftop that replicates a greenhouse and coral reef farming conditions in order to grow healthy, live coral. Live coral polyps are discovered and collected in the wild among damage sites and can produce new colonies in the aquarium’s farm.
For sake of research, several methods are tested in order to find which facilitates the most growth and healthy offspring. The method currently practiced at the Florida Aquarium can produce 12-15 inches of coral per year. Healthy sperm and egg samples gathered produce a more diverse coral culture. The Apollo Beach research location also has a live coral reef farm where healthy, live coral is dispersed out in the wild and into the waters in Key West.
Heart of the Sea
As the second largest habitat at the Florida Aquarium, the Heart of the Sea habitat is home to sting rays, sea turtles, bonnethead sharks, and fishes. When animals are rescued and brought to the facility, they are quarantined and trained for feeding based on different colored targets that are placed in the water to lure animals in separate locations for feeding, as the animals have varying diets. The targets can also serve as a mechanism to encourage swimming in constellations where employees and vet techs can check for healthy swimming patterns and evaluate eating habits. Prior to being released back into the wild, animals’ survival instincts are tested by seeing if they can catch and eat live food on their own – Ludwig, the sea turtle, will remain at the facility for a bit as he was playing with his live food instead of catching and eating. Fun fact: seahorses are the most expensive animal to feed at the aquarium as they only eat ground shrimp, that quickly passes through their system, requiring lots of food on a regular basis!
Thank you to Hailie, our behind the scenes tour guide, and all the Florida Aquarium team for an educating and fun afternoon!