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Access Points 28: Georgia Aquarium’s coral reef

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Did you recognize this week's Access Point? You might if you spend a lot of time around the coral reef inside Georgia Aquarium. AJC photos by Jamie Gumbrecht

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
Colonies of coral
Percent of coral coverage currently in the reef
Fish species in the reef wall|
Animals in the exhibit
Gallons of water in the reef wall exhibit
77: Degrees Fahrenheit of the water

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More from inside the Georgia Aquarium's coral exhibit.

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.”

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Pre-K visitors from The Goddard School took in the coral kingdom inside the Tropical Diver exhibition at Georgia Aquarium.

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,

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14 comments Add your comment

[...] pm March 10, 2010, by Jamie Gumbrecht UPDATE 3/11: Want to know the answer? Here it is! Have you seen this? If so, share your guess at what it is in the [...]

Mammals should not be held captive for human entertainment

March 11th, 2010
7:39 pm

Boycott the aquarium until they remove the captive mammals and return them to their natural environment!


March 11th, 2010
8:53 pm

uh, so mammals… if we we boycot the aquarium until they release all of the animals, what exactly would we be looking at once the boycott is over? just a thought…

Mammals should not be held captive for human entertainment

March 11th, 2010
9:13 pm

Fish of course. There is more than mammals at the aquarium. You do know the difference between a mammal and a fish…..I hope.

Mr. Fish

March 11th, 2010
10:46 pm

OK, ‘Mammals’, so you’re just fine with keeping fish captive? And exactly how do you justify that?

Mammals should not be held captive for human entertainment

March 11th, 2010
11:00 pm

Damn some of you people are dumb.

Mammals have a higher level of cognition. Further, the migratory mammals such as whales have an innate need to migrate. Being confined in a tank has negative affects. How many have died so far? Imagine being caged yourself……


March 12th, 2010
12:20 am

Then we should also boycott the Zoo Atlanta because those Zebras like migrate as well.


March 12th, 2010
12:56 am

Maybe we need to boycott the prisons too ,cause Lord knows those inmates don’t want to be held there.

Rectal Bleeding

March 12th, 2010
8:44 am

Wow…..Some of you are using specious reasoning here…..OK, Float is. You can only compare prisons to zoo’s and aquariums if those in zoos and aquariums committed crimes, which in turn makes the rest of the animal kingdom safer.

I’m not a PETA freak like the the one here, but if you are going to debate them, at least use your brain, or a brain of someone smarter.


March 12th, 2010
12:20 pm

I’m not all that crazy about the captive mammals either, but they can’t release them back to the while if they were born in captivity. What’s more cruel – keeping them, or setting them free to die of starvation or predation because they don’t know how to hunt, or don’t know what in the ocean hunts them!!! I think we just need to put a stop to trapping wild animals for future use, but we still need to continue to care for the ones that are already in captivity.


March 12th, 2010
12:23 pm

Also, it’s a sad fact, but true, that the captive mammals, while entertaining us, also act as ambassadors for their wild cousins. Humans are very self centered creatures. Without having seen and studied these amazing creatures up close, we wouldn’t give a crap about what happens to them in the wild. The few suffer (questionable) for the benefit of the masses.


March 12th, 2010
11:49 pm

Unfortunately, the Japanese couldn’t care less about whales… it’s all about their food “tradition.” They’d happily hunt all the whales to extinction, and while they’re not mammals, they probably won’t obey the proposed ban on hunting blue fin tuna since they need that for sushi. But it’s not just the Japanese who eat endangered species, there’s lots of cultures that contribute to species extinction.


March 14th, 2010
2:18 pm

The holier than thou attitude that “Mammals should not be” indicates that he/she/it is nothing more than a cyber-bully looking to insult and bait others into a verbal exchange that he/she/it feels it has superiority in. Well, I say the the only intellectual on this board is everyone except the instigator of said comments above. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, dumba**.


September 20th, 2010
10:47 am

Unfortunately, there are always people who have to take everything to the extreme. People who can get uncontrollably upset over the keeping of a hand full of dolphins and yet do absolutely nothing about the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS that are killed by fisherman. Seems rather ironic. My question is… would these people be as passionate IF they had never been exposed to them, up close? As Lori so accurately stated they are ambassadors for their species. It’s funny… these people are the same ones that will argue insistently that their is no such thing as global warming or ocean acidification and our oceans are just fine. They argue based on passion… not science.

I love all animals (probably more than humans sometimes) so I am not dispassionate to the captive mammals… but I fully understand that the dozen dolphins in a park may well be responsible for saving hundreds, if not thousands, of “wild” dolphins.

If it’s the entertainment for “money” part that really bothers you… you also need to remember that education and research costs money. You also need to understand that when you use the word “exploited” to describe a mammal doing a behavior to get a fish you are, most likely, watching something that animal would have done in the wild. Either way, they are not FORCED to do anything. They can choose not to do a behavior and still get fed the exact same amount. In most cases the behavior is. in fact, entertainment for the animal, as well.

Once we end whaling, and the killing of dolphins for meat and sport… and once we stop beating baby seals over the heads with clubs to eliminate competition for the fisherman and we stop shooting Sea Lions to keep them from eating the precious Salmon… THEN we can start talking about the captive marine mammals… but WE have a lot of work to do before then !!!!