Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Date with Medusa

Our morning today was a little different from most mornings at the office.  Kathlina and I decided to walk over to Ocean Journey, the marine-focused building at the Tennessee Aquarium.  We were going to help our aquarist friends feed Medusa, the Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)
Medusa the Pacific Giant Octopus in the corner of her tank.
When we first arrived at her enclosure, she was curled up in the corner of the tank furthest from us, and was not being particularly social.  We decided to let her stay in her corner and threw a pan of shrimp toward her, which she quickly began to explore with on of her eight tentacles.
Medusa putting a tentacle into the pan of shrimp.
Once she was finished with her shrimp and playing with the pan, we served her the next course of breakfast.  Octopi are very intelligent, so staff at the Aquarium provide enrichment activities for Medusa to prevent her from getting bored.  One enrichment activity is making her work for her food.  Shrimp and squid are placed into a closed container that has a screw top, and the whole container thrown into the tank. It was entertaining to watch her try to open the container. 
Medusa curled up around the container full of shrimp and squid.

As she worked on getting to her breakfast, she slowly moved closer to Kathlina and me, providing a great photo opportunity that highlights some of the interesting traits octopi possess.

An underwater view.
Cephalopods are the class of invertebrates that include the octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus.  This is a very unique group of mollusks (yes, they are related to clams and oysters!).  Probably the most noticeable feature of cephalopods is their tentacles. They are lined with suction cups and assist with locomotion, eating, and anchoring the animal down.  To see a video of these amazing appendages in action, check out TNACI's Facebook page.

Close-up of Medusa's tentacle.
Some of the more remarkable traits about cephalopods is their developed senses, large brains and their ability to change color.  While other mollusks do not have eyes, cephalopod eyesight is very keen and is the main sense they use to hunt.  The intelligence of octopi is highly debated, but they do possess a brain larger than other invertebrates and experiments have shown an ability to solve mazes.

The group of cephalopods that includes squid, octopus, and cuttlefish (subclass Coleoidea) possess pigmented cells called chromatophores. Contracting and relaxing small mussels around the chromatophores causes the animal to change color, and they can do so very quickly.  Color change occurs during reproductive activities, times of stress, or in an attempts to camouflage with the surrounding environment.  Octopi can also change the texture of their skin.  We were lucky enough to catch Medusa in the middle of a color change.

Chromatophores allow octopi to change color.
Eventually, Medusa did get to the squid in the container we threw to her.  All-in-all it was a fun morning and a nice change in routine. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Can you believe that the holidays are right around the corner?  I know TNACI hasn’t accepted it mostly because of the weather.  Usually by now it is cold and crisp in eastern Tennessee.  Instead, it has been in the 50s and raining.  Despite the warm(ish) weather, we did have a wonderful holiday party last week, full of laughs and funny (some quite strange) White Elephant gifts.
Many of us have our own way of being green during the holidays, and we decided to share some of these ideas with you.  How are you eco-conscious during this time of year?  Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

Dr. Anna George, Director of TNACI
For a few years now, our family has been celebrating “Homemade Christmas.”  With so many talents among us—knitting, drawing, pottery, baking—it just made sense that we should celebrate with our time instead of our wallets.  One year, my husband drew a set of fish coloring books for all of our nieces and nephews, and last year I sewed nine pairs of flannel pajama pants for all of the family!  What’s really great is seeing what the kids are inspired to make for us—my niece has learned how to knit fabulous scarves, and the boys have made us flour dough sea creatures.  Though we still spend some money on our supplies, it’s wonderful not to have a pile of plastic packaging to throw away when Christmas is over.  And never underestimate the value of giving away experiences instead of things—taking my husband out for a nice dinner together is much more memorable—and greener—than buying him a new TV.
Kathlina Alford, Conservation Associate
I love to make things for people for Christmas so I try to use items that I find at yard sales, thrift stores or even the trash and turn them into something new. It’s a different kind of recycling! I also like to be creative with wrapping gifts. This year I bought re-usable grocery bags each time I found a cute one and used those in place of gift bags. I also like to wrap gifts in fabric for those of my friends and family who like to sew! For decorating I use clippings from fir trees and holly bushes in my neighborhood to make the house smell good and look festive. We don’t put up a big tree but instead decorate one of my indoor plants. This year we had a Christmas avocado tree!
Ashford Rosenberg, Sustainability Coordinator
The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year!  But they can also be the most wasteful.  In my family we try to decrease our footprint this time of year.  I keep gift bags from the year before and reuse them.  I also do a lot of holiday shopping at a used book store here in town.  Everyone in my family has strange enough tastes that I can always find a unique, gently used book that will interest them.  I have also moved more toward e-cards than paper cards.  We either re-use wrapping paper, try to find fun materials to wrap gifts in, or purchase paper made from recycled materials.  This year at a Christmas party, instead of buying disposable cups for everyone, we bought red and green plastic tumblers and sharpies so people could personalize their cup and take it home as a party favor.
Sarah Candler, Husbandry Intern
This holiday season, I have downsized the number of lights used in my decorating. Instead of buying all commercial gifts, I have made some of my own as well as purchased many locally made items. Most were wrapped using bows and bags from the previous year. Any bows and ribbons that can be salvaged after opening gifts this year, I will save for reuse next year. I also recycle my Christmas tree every year by mulching it.
Evan Collins, Research Intern
Christmas with my family is a pretty modest affair.  A small Christmas tree comprises the extent of our decorations.  This helps save time and energy.  The main course for the holiday dinner consists of local food, usually a chicken we raised and butchered at home, or locally caught fish for something a little different.  Gifts are packaged with boxes and wrapping paper from previous years and saved if possible.

Friday, December 9, 2011

TNACI Takes Serve & Protect to Chattanooga High Schools

TNACI's mission is to conserve native aquatic animals and their habitats through scientific research, ecosystem restoration, education programs, and public outreach. Historically, TNACI's focus has been on freshwater conservation. However, with the help of celebrity chef Alton Brown, TNACI and the Tennessee Aquarium are moving downstream into the realm of marine conservation through sustainable seafood education.
You may have heard all the buzz when Alton was in town during September. He delivered an engaging presentation to a sold out IMAX Theater, highlighting the importance of environmentally responsible, healthy seafood choices. He definitely brought down the house! But the journey for sustainable seafood education doesn't stop there. Our goal is for the message and actions to spread into the Chattanooga community and beyond.

To continue spreading the message, TNACI now offers a new outreach program called Serve & Protect: a new way to SEEfood. As our Sustainability Coordinator, I get to visit area high schools to educate students about the impacts commercial fishing can have on our ocean, the advantages and drawbacks of fish farming, and ways teenagers and their families can be active in ocean conservation through seafood choices.

Our first group of high schoolers to take part in this program was the students and Girls Preparatory School here in Chattanooga. I spoke to the marine science class at GPS at the start of this week, and had a blast. The students learned what characteristics make a certain species more vulnerable to overfishing, what popular seafood species are in trouble due to overexploitation, and sustainable alternatives. Check out our Facebook page , or GPS's website for more pictures from the program.

If you are interested in TNACI coming to your school to talk about sustainable seafood, contact Ashford Rosenberg.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Logperch, Ashys, and Sunfish, Oh My!

The transition from our hatchery facility in Cohutta, GA, to our recirculating facility in Chattanooga, TN, has been quite the adjustment for TNACI this year. As the Lake Sturgeon project is winding down for the year, we are expanding the number of species we work with and taking on new projects. A greenhouse onsite has been converted into fish grow-out and propagation space. Currently there are three species living there with more to come soon.

The new TNACI fish propagation area, currently housing six separate recirculating systems making up 19 fish enclosures.
:Conasauga Logperch in the Conasauga River during the collection trip for the brood stock for the breeding project. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Calhoon)

In partnership with Conservation Fisheries Inc. (CFI), we are housing Conasauga Logperch and Ashy Darters! The Conasauga Logperch are part of a cooperative effort (also with US Fish and Wildlife Service and Georgia Department of Natural Resources) to assist the wild population of this species by developing techniques for a captive propagation and reintroduction program. In 2010, we helped CFI collect a group of broodstock. Amazingly, CFI produced a bumper crop (over 700!) of little guys in the first year of the program. So 120 of them are growing strong at TNACI until they can be released.

As for the Ashy Darters, they were part of a different program to learn to breed this species - which was obviously also successful! These darters will be held through the winter until they go to the Tennessee Aquarium for exhibit.

Two young Ashy Darters.
The three species in the genus Enneacanthus are another group we’re starting to work with in the new greenhouse facility. Blackbanded Sunfish are being held in a heavily planted system in hopes that the natural sunlight, temperature fluctuations and vegetation will optimize breeding for this species. There are many more plans for this space in the works. It is exciting to plan for the future and have the facilities to accomodate new conservation opportunities that will benefit freshwater species in the Southeast!

Blackbanded Sunfish in our breeding tank.

See a video of the Blackbanded Sunfish eating on our Facebook page!!/pages/Tennessee-Aquarium-Conservation-Institute/151884801512568