There were dozens of guesses at this week’s Access Point, and no, it’s not an up-close shot of human skin. (The camera and lenses I dug out of AJC storage just aren’t that powerful.) It is, though, a living creature inside the Georgia Aquarium’s Tropical Diver exhibition — coral, an animal (not a plant!) related to sea anemones and jellies.
This one, in fact, is a leather coral, sarcophyton sp., that came to the Aquarium as a donation from a home hobbyist in North Carolina. Like all the other donated, purchased, shared or rescued coral there, it went through a quarantine period before it was planted inside the tank.
Atlanta’s is the second-largest coral exhibit in the United States, and there’s more to come. (Here’s a detailed article about it from a few years ago in Reefkeeping Magazine.) This is an example of a barrier reef. In nature, it runs parallel to shore and is separated from land by a lagoon. These types of reefs can be many miles wide, and are some of the most species-rich areas of the ocean.
Here’s a brief , by-the-numbers guide to the Georgia Aquarium’s coral:
200: Species of coral
800: Colonies of coral
40: Percent of coral coverage currently in the reef
89: Fish species in the reef wall|
2,000: Animals in the exhibit
164,000: Gallons of water in the reef wall exhibit
77: Degrees Fahrenheit of the water
Kimberly Hall, Georgia Aquarium’s associate curator of fish and invertebrates in Tropical Diver, explains that they’re working toward having 100 percent living coral in the exhibition, “but it will probably be years.”
The Georgia Aquarium, like other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, avoids removing live coral from the ocean. Most of corals in their living collection were cultivated in other aquariums. Some come from hobbyists, like those at the Atlanta Reef Club, others are donated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services after they’re confiscated. Some came courtesy of Georgia Aquarium Science Officer Bruce Carlson, who has been cultivating them since the 1980s, making these some of the oldest creatures on display.
“We watch, we observe,” Hall explained. “When it first came online, it didn’t fare very well with certain species. When I see that happening, my philosophy, personally, is I allow the tank to talk to me and tell me where it wants to go. One species didn’t do well and I wanted almost two years to try it again. The second time, it fared great and is doing really well. You do have to do a lot of observational work, on the dry side and dive in the tank two hours a day.
“It’s a knack for observing – listening to the tank, funny as they sounds.”
Want to go? Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St. N.W. Atlanta. $26-$35. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. 404-581-4000, www.georgiaaquarium.org.
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