Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer Conservation Tips

Summer is upon us and we all know what that means: time by the pool, kids home from school, and relaxing.  However, summer is also a time where conservation of resources is of utmost importance.  Don’t get me wrong, it is important to be a conservationist year-round, but certain pollution problems tend to be worse in the warmest months of the year.  So here are some tips to have some fun this summer, but feel good about the resources you are saving and the positive impact you are having on the environment.

1.  Carpool to work or other destinations.  Air quality is worse in the summer due to the warm temperatures.  One particularly hazardous air pollutant in the summer is ozone.  Ozone is important in the upper levels of the atmosphere, but in high concentrations in the lower atmosphere it can cause respiratory problems. Ozone enters the lower atmosphere when some pollutants from car emissions react with sunlight. 
2.   Wash your car on your lawn.  I know I mentioned this in a recent blog post but it’s an easy step to reducing runoff pollution. Now that spring is almost over, your car is covered in pollen.  And with summer fast approaching you want to keep your car free from bug splatter and bird droppings.  By washing your car on your lawn instead of your driveway, some of the grass and soil will prevent the dirt, grime, and soap from entering waterways.
3.  Go easy on the A.C.  Especially in the South, summers can be absolutely sweltering, and it’s tempting to turn the air conditioning way down to stay cool.  If you are in the South, the electricity for your air conditioning may be supplied by coal burning power plants.  The burning of coal sends harmful pollutants into the atmosphere and can cause other environmental problems.  The methods by which companies obtain coal are also very damaging to the environment.  While evenings are still in the low 70s, try turning off the AC at night and opening some windows.  Once it gets too warm to do that, keep the thermostat set to about 75-78 degrees.  It may seem too warm, but it will still be about 15 degrees cooler than the outside temperature.  You will also be saving money on your electric bill, and who doesn’t want to do that!?
4.  Use a rain barrel for your garden.  If you are a home gardener, try using a rain barrel to water your plants.  It’s another money saver that’s also a good conservation action.  You won’t have to pay for the water coming out of the hose. 
5.  Water your lawn at cooler times of the day.  During hot summer months, the warm temperatures increase evaporation.  To minimize evaporation and ensure you use water on your lawn more efficiently, water your lawn early in the morning or late in the evening.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Start of Sturgeon Season 2012!

Well it’s that time of year again!  On May 23 Kathlina took our team of new interns down to Warm Spring National Fish Hatchery to pick up our baby sturgeon for the year, a little over 2,000 fish!  These are juvenile Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), a very special fish that used to be abundant in the Tennessee River.  However, due to overfishing and habitat degradation they became extirpated from Tennessee in the 1960’s.  With recent water quality improvements, TNACI has been part of a long term program dedicated to returning this fish to Tennessee waters. 

Kathlina and Carlos at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery

Kathlina and two of our husbandry interns, Jessica and Stephen

These babies are tiny now, approximately 2-3cm (0.8-1.2 inches).  But the fish can grow to be 8 ft long and around 300 pounds!  They are also incredibly long-lived, the oldest on record being 154 years old. Your grandchildren may encounter these baby fish in the future!  Since the start of this project, around 100,000 Lake Sturgeon have been released into the Tennessee River.

The fish that we picked up today will be housed at our husbandry warehouse until they are approximately 6 months old.  In the fall we will release them into the Tennessee or Cumberland River.  Stay tuned over the summer to hear updates on our sturgeon nursery!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sustainable Seafood Dinner with Greenlife Grocery

The Tennessee Aquarium and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute have been working on spreading the message of sustainable seafood into the Chattanooga community.  In March, we took a group to Pickett’s Trout Ranch to talk about local farm-raised seafood options.  This month, we took a different approach by taking people to the grocery store to learn how to prepare and shop for healthy sustainable seafood.

Greenlife Grocery is one of our nine partners for Serve & Protect.  This small grocery store has been a staple in the Chattanooga community for many years and the go-to place to find local sustainable food.  They also have a wonderful team of chefs that perform cooking demonstrations and organize catering.  Greenlife was responsible for the delicious appetizers at the Serve & Protect fundraising event in September 2011 and one of their chefs, Anastasia, helped Alton Brown prepare for his cooking demonstration that evening.  She was there on Thursday as well and it was great to see her again!

After introductions, one of their chefs, Nick, began demonstrating how to cook whole trout.  It was so simple!  Take a butterflied de-boned trout and stuff it with lemon and parsley.  Cover the entire fish in salt and cook it for 45 minutes at 350°.

This little taste was the finished product and boy, was it delicious!  It’s an easy recipe that I can’t wait to try at home.

After the cooking demonstration, dinner was served!  We had an amazing four course meal with two wine pairings.

Wine pairings
First Course: Smoked trout guacamole 
Second Course: Maine lobster ceviche

Third Course:  Grilled halibut taco

Last, but not least, dessert:  Watermelon gelato with dark chocolate chips

After the delicious dinner, we went down to the seafood counter to talk about how to buy fresh, sustainable seafood at the grocery store.  Greenlife uses two ratings: BlueOcean Institute (BOI) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  BOI is a colored rating system: avoid red, take caution with yellow, green is sustainable.  Greenlife and Whole Foods do not carry any fish under the red rating.  The MSC is a third party certification agency that evaluated fisheries to determine if they are sustainable.

If you are at a grocery store that does not use this system, buying American harvested seafood is the best way to be a sustainable seafood shopper.  According to a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fishery management in U.S. waters has been successful.  Six depleted stocks have rebuilt and only 20% of U.S. fish stocks are considered overfished in comparison to worldwide where 33% of stocks are considered overfished. 

We had a great time, and cannot wait to do it again!  Thanks Greenlife!

TNACI and Greenlife team.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Endangered Species Day

What image pops into your head when you think of an endangered species?  A panda?  A tiger?  Maybe a whale?  These are all critically endangered animals whose images tend to create a sense of wonder and a need to conserve the remote habitats in which they live.  However, some of the most critically endangered animals live in the southeastern U.S. and our day to day actions can lead to their conservation or extinction.  Endangered Species Day is on May 18th, so here is some information on the importance of conserving endangered species and what regulations are in place to protect them.

The Southeastern U.S. is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world when it comes to aquatic animals.  TNACI’s Dr. Anna George said in a recent interview, “It’s like an underwater rainforest.”  Many of the animals that live in this part of the country don’t live anywhere else, and many are threatened or endangered.  There are numerous ways that we are trying to protect these animals and it takes collaboration between legislators, regulatory agencies and the general public to ensure that these animals are around for our grandchildren. 

One major piece of legislation that protects endangered species in the U.S. is the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Passed in 1973, it is the first significant law that called for the protection of endangered species. The U.S. was the first country to implement such a piece of legislation and other countries have modeled environmental law after the ESA. There are three strategies within the law that aim to prevent extinction:
  1. Commercially banning the trade and importation of endangered species
  2. Forbidding federal agencies from harming species
  3. Forbidding the killing or “taking” of an endangered species. 

In the 1970s, the ESA played a major role in the fight to protect one of the southeastern U.S.’s native fish: the snail darter (Percina tanasi).  The Tennessee Valley Authority proposed the construction of Tellico Dam, which would flood farm land and historic sites, and damage crucial habitat for this native fish that only occurs in the Tennessee River and its tributaries.  After the darter was discovered in the construction area by an ichthyology professor at the University of Tennessee, a law student from the same school started the ball rolling on a lawsuit against TVA for violating the ESA. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where the court ruled in the snail darter’s favor.  Construction on Tellico Dam had to stop.  Later, a mandate was passed in a completely unrelated bill that gave TVA the go ahead to finish Tellico Dam despite the Supreme Court’s ruling.  Though the dam was ultimately built despite the court’s ruling, it has been an example of environmental law being upheld in court.

Sometimes it is difficult to trace who exactly is harming endangered species.  In the case of aquatic animals, pollution is the cause for population decline, and virtually every stream and river is suffering.  Non-point source pollution is any pollution not contained in a pipe that enters a waterway.  In other words, a majority of the pollution entering our streams and rivers is non point source pollution.  While images of a polluted river might include a river covered in litter or water that has an oily sheen, sometimes we cannot tell just by looking if the water quality is suffering.  Some animals can be an indicator that something is wrong before humans are able to detect it.  One area where this is true is the Conasauga River, one of the most diverse rivers in the world!  Agricultural runoff has caused some areas of the river to be unsuitable for aquatic organisms.  One of the special fish that live here is the Conasauga logperch (Percina jenkinsi).  As you can tell from it's name, it is related to the snail darter as they share the same genus.  They are adorable little fish that flip rocks in the water looking for food. The are special for many reasons.  They have a very small native range, but a high genetic diversity, which is unusual.  They are also an indicator species:  if the water isn't clean enough for the logperch, it isn't clean enough for animals and most likely not clean enough for humans to use for recreation.  They are one of the desperate dozen: a fish that is critically endangered and drastic measures need to be taken to ensure this fish survives.  TNACI and CFI have been raising juvenile Conasauga logperch in captivity and releasing them into the wild, taking care that these captive logperch have the same high diversity as the wild population.  We are celebrating Endangered Species Day by releasing some of these fish with CFI.  Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also partners on this project. This is just one of TNACI's many conservation projects on endangered species!

Conasauga Logperch (Percina jenkinsi)

However, it is not the job of just scientists to preserve our special aquatic organisms and we need your help!  So what can you do? Here are some ideas:
  1. Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn and garden if possible. These chemicals cause a wide range of problems for water quality.  Some are directly toxic to wildlife, while others cause the oxygen in the water to drastically decrease.
  2. Keep your car well maintained.  Ensuring your car isn’t leaking oils or other fluids will keep these harmful chemicals out of the water.
  3. Wash your car on your lawn.  Plants and soil can act as a natural filter.  By washing your car on the lawn instead of on the driveway, some of the soap and grime will be retained by the soil and grass.
  4. Participate in local clean-up efforts and environmental action groups.
  5. Learn more at 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lake Sturgeon Release in Nashville, Tennessee

There have been a lot of things to celebrate in April:  Easter, Earth Day, the coming of spring.  For us at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the Tennessee Aquarium, it was a month to celebrate milestones.  The Tennessee Aquarium celebrated its 20th birthday and the opening of a new River Giants exhibit, and TNACI celebrated the continued success of the Lake Sturgeon Reintroduction program, one of our local river giants.  Each year we release juvenile sturgeon that are about six months old and six inches long.  Occasionally we hold fish a few months longer so that they can be released at larger sizes, which is exactly what we did this year.

Lake Sturgeon are very special fish that live in many rivers across the U.S.  They are a river giant in their own right. The largest on record are 8 ft and 310 pounds, though now sizes of 5 ft and 100 pounds are more common. They can live up to 150 years and they do not reach sexual maturity until they are in their teens. While they are not listed as federally endangered, Lake Sturgeon are considered imperiled in Tennessee.  In the 1960s, a combination of habitat degradation and overfishing caused the Lake Sturgeon to become extirpated from the Tennessee River.  After some improvements in dam discharge practices as well as benefits from the Clean Water Act in 1972, a group of agencies decided to work together to bring the Lake Sturgeon back to the Tennessee River. The Tennessee River Lake Sturgeon Working Group partners include the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, Tennessee Wildlife Resources AgencyWorld Wildlife FundTennessee Tech University, the University of Tennessee at KnoxvilleU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceTennessee Valley AuthorityUnited States Geological SurveyWisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Conservation Fisheries, Inc.

On April 27th, we drove up to Nashville to meet up with TWRA and a group of students from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.  We met them at Shelby Park near Shelby Bottoms Nature Center in downtown Nashville where the Cumberland River runs through the city.  Dr. Zeb Hogan, the host of Monster Fish on the National Geographic channel was in town to help the Tennessee Aquarium open the new River Giants exhibit, so he decided to come along and help us with the release. 

Dr. Anna George and Dr. Zeb Hogan
TWRA brought thirty fish that were 2-3 years old and ranged in size from 24-30 inches.  They are still very young, and will not be old enough to spawn for at least another ten years if not longer. These fish were born at Warm Springs Hatchery in Georgia and some of them lived with the TNACI for a few months before they were taken to TWRA’s hatchery. 

Each fish has a scute, the bony plate that runs along the side and back of a sturgeon, removed that designates how old it is.  We do this so that when we catch the fish on monitoring trips, we can determine how old it is. To date, 130,000 juvenile Lake Sturgeon have been released across Tennessee.
Anna showing Zeb which scute has been removed on this fish.
Fish were removed from Springfield Hatchery's truck and carried to the water by pairs of students. 

Anna helps a student remove the sturgeon from the net that carried it from the truck to the water.

A fish swims from Zeb Hogan's hands into its new environment. 

We all had a great time!  TNACI got to drive to Nashville in style in our River Giants Volkswagen Beetle

The TNACI team!
The kids had a good time too.  Many took the opportunity to touch these majestic fish before letting them swim away into their new home.

We hope that this experience will inspire these students to be conservationists.
All of the students who helped us with the release.

You don’t have to be a scientist to be a conservationist. Here are some easy conservation actions you can do at home.