The Tennessee Aquarium’s latest project, an expansion of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), is on track to be completed by the end of 2016. The new 14,000-square-foot facility will be host to a variety of research and education programs with the specific goal of raising awareness of the plight of the world’s freshwater ecosystems.
Located in Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium is in an ideal location to be a hub of freshwater conservation initiatives. Over half of the country’s freshwater fish species live within 500 miles of Chattanooga, and the aquarium already prominently features freshwater species in its exhibits.
In the midst of the planet’s sixth mass extinction, freshwater species appear to be faring the worst; that is, the extinction rate of freshwater organisms is 2 to 5 times greater than rates for marine and terrestrial species. As such, the Tennessee Aquarium is dedicating itself, through its Conservation Institute, to become a world leader in advocating for freshwater species.
The new field station for the Conservation Institute will include biological research labs that focus on developing breeding programs for endangered freshwater species. The field station will be in close proximity to the Tennessee River, which should facilitate research and species reintroduction efforts.
The field station will also be equipped with three research labs that will allow the team of scientists to conduct studies in fields such as conservation genetics. Upon its opening, the field station hopes to have about 8 to 10 scientists on staff. See the video below to learn more about the aquarium’s current research efforts.
In addition to conservation breeding and research efforts, the field station will also become a hub of the Tennessee Aquarium’s education outreach programs. One such program is the Conservation Leadership in Action Week (CLAW), which the aquarium began about four years ago and which caters to high school students. The aquarium hopes to develop this program further to reach more students and potentially extend it to longer than one week sessions. The field station will help the aquarium to realize this goal, as classrooms for high school and college students will also be included in the building.
This new field station should become an incredible beacon of research, conservation, and education about the world’s freshwater ecosystems, and it is an incredible example of why zoos and aquariums are key players in conservation efforts around the world.