Conservation

The Oklahoma Aquarium’s mission statement, “To educate and inspire conservation of our aquatic world through interactive discovery,” means that we hope the more you learn about our world’s waters and its inhabitants, the more you will do to protect our natural resources. 71% of the planet is covered in water, the Oklahoma Aquarium encourages folks to “Think Blue To Go Green”! Water conservation means planet conservation.

Research

The brilliant biology staff at the Oklahoma Aquarium is always looking for new and inventive ways to revolutionize the environmental and humane responsibilities of aquariums and related industries. Our biologists are currently conducting research in several areas that will improve the quality of life for the animals at our aquarium, wild ecosystems, and for future acquisitions.

Coral Reef Research

 

Director of Education and Research at the Oklahoma Aquarium, Ann Money, is working cooperatively with Oklahoma State University to help our failing reef systems in the wild. Fluoroproteins are responsible for bio-fluorescence in nature and are commonly found in coral reefs. Coral reefs with more bio-fluorescence have demonstrated a slower rate of mass coral bleaching. This research will explore the response of corals to common stressors found both in a natural setting and in aquaria by measure of fluorescence emission. As well we hope to identify symbiotic algae that recolonizes bleached corals more rapidly.

What is the context of this research?

Coral reefs are significant ecosystems in the world’s oceans. They are threatened by anthropogenic effects that cause “bleaching”.

Research has identified fluoroproteins, which bio-fluoresce as early indicators of coral health. Fluorescence expression differs when stressed by temperature and light. This project will expand fluorescence research by investigating novel variables such as pH and salinity, nitrates, and phosphates.

Symbiodinium is an algae that lives within coral tissues. When stressed, they vacate, causing bleaching. This project also explores the theory that fluorescence is a visual cue to attract Symbiodinium.

What is the significance of the research?

Bleaching, first observed in the 1980’s, is increasing. Reefs are a vital ecosystem, providing shelter to 25% of all marine life. Studies are underway worldwide to gather data on the variables that cause bleaching, and developing strategies to mitigate the death of corals from bleaching. Using the resources of the Oklahoma Aquarium, this research utilizes controlled coral populations in conditions controlled more rigorously than in the field.

By testing fluoroprotein emissions after exposure to novel variables, We hope to identify a stress marker prior to bleaching.

Identifying a correlation between fluorescence and rate of re-colonization of Symbiodiniumwould fill a significant gap in the literature, and assist in identifying corals for re-seeding.

What are the goals of the research?

Experimental stress trials are conducted at the Oklahoma Aquarium on a minimum of four coral species with fifteen independent samples to determine which variables stress the corals and if there is a correlation with fluorescence emission. We study the effects of rising water temperature, increased irradiance, salinity, and pH, and levels of nitrates and phosphates that are outside of the normal range for coral. Following that assessment, water in coral tanks will be cultured with Symbiodinium to measure the speed and quantity of uptake of symbiotic algae. Using data gathered from this battery of experiments, we hope to identify hardier species and combinations of corals and Symbiodinium. These can be used to “seed” ocean coral using aquaria grown coral.

Shark and Husbandry Research

Bull Sharks

Our biologists are currently testing a new theory in the handling of sharks to reduce the metabolic stress response. It is possible that by handling the animals regularly, the sharks will have a higher survival rate during transport or relocation. Working with Texas Parks and Wildlife, Aquarium biologists are also tracking the growth of captive bull sharks and comparing growth data with bull sharks in the wild.  Staff has identified bull shark nursery grounds, where the females go to pup in almost fresh water. There is little known about bull shark reproduction, where they breed, and where they pup. The habits and movement of the pups is also a mystery, which our biologists help solve each year they travel to the Gulf Coast. The data that our biologists gather helps answer questions regarding this important apex predator. Our team is the sole contributor of bull shark information with the Elasmoblood Data Base, which is the largest collection of data on shark, ray and skate blood parameters in the world.

 

Bull sharks have the strongest bite force per pound of any species of shark, they will often bite through mooring lines in the ocean which tether weather buoys. These buoys provide important, potentially life saving information about weather patterns out at sea. Partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we test the strength of new mooring lines by subjecting them to the bite of our amazing bulls. No need to be afraid of our bull sharks, they help save lives!

Animal Husbandry

In order to eliminate the need for animal acquisition from the ocean, our biology staff practices captive rearing, or raising animals in captivity for the purpose of education. These animals currently include jellyfish, seahorses and several species of sharks. The practice of fragging coral, where new corals are grown from cut pieces, helps to preserve our already endangered coral reefs of the world. These efforts are also distributed with other aquariums nation-wide, sharing the ability to avoid taking animals from the wild, and promoting conservation of our world’s oceans. The health and safety of our animals is priority number one.

Water Filtration

Water filtration methods are being researched in the pursuit of better methods of  for improved health of aquarium animals. Aquarium Director, Kenny Alexopoulos and Curator, John Money, have pioneered new methods of water filtration at a public aquarium.  The use of ozone for the sterilization of water has proven successful. Our filtration methods are extremely  effective in maintaining beautiful clarity and stable water chemistry for the benefit of both our animals and our guests.

 

Recognition

The Oklahoma Aquarium has worked in cooperation of NOAA, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Dateline NBC and BBC to create documentaries and research valuable to the scientific community. Our research staff has been awarded a National Science Foundation scholarship for our innovative coral research. NOAA worked with our biology team to conduct tests for creating stronger mooring lines for weather buoys, and our magnificent bull sharks were able to eliminate the weaker materials with their extremely sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Our shark exhibit has been included in four different documentary features relating to the life history, biology and behavior of sharks. Special guests to our Aquarium have included Nigel Marvin, Dr. Jane Goodall, Titanic’s Robert D. Ballard and BBC’s Mike DeGruy. Look for our sharks during the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in a program called “The Perfect Shark,” filmed by the BBC.

 

If you would like more information or to donate directly to the Oklahoma Aquarium’s research efforts, please contact:

Ann Money, Education Programs and Research, 918-528-1531 or  amoney@okaquarium.org