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Front Page - Friday, March 8, 2019

Charismatic castaways

New Tennessee Aquarium gallery celebrates island life

Harlequin sweetlips

The Tennessee Aquarium will on March 15 open Island Life, a new gallery that takes guests on a globe-trotting exploration of isolated ecosystems above and below the water.

“Guests will see amazing animals,” says Thom Demas, the Aquarium’s director of aquatic collections and life support systems. “Islands are diverse locations, and in this gallery, we’re able to tell quite a few of these stories of biodiversity.”

Stops along the gallery include:

Vancouver Island

Re-creating the waters off the rocky shores of Canada’s West Coast, Vancouver Island features a variety of colorful anemones, urchins, sea stars and other marine life. This habitat features artificially generated waves that rush along 20 feet of sinuously curved acrylic before crashing against an upright viewing window.

Indo-Pacific Reef

In Island Life, the Indo-Pacific Reef tank highlights the huge variety of aquatic life found off the coast of Southeast Asia in a region known as the Coral Triangle.

This expanse of ocean is home to nearly 600 species of reef-building corals and more than 2,000 kinds of fish. This 8-foot display is the second-largest exhibit in the Ocean Journey building. Guests will see a community comprising more than 30 species of vibrant reef-dwellers, including Polleni groupers, Kole tangs, Picasso triggers and Guineafowl pufferfish.

Cave of the flashlight fish

This dim, mirror-filled room glows with flashes of light courtesy of hundreds of split fin flashlight fish. This deep-dwelling fish generates light through pockets of glowing bacteria housed in a pouch under its eyes.

During the day, this fish resides in the darker depths of the ocean before migrating upward at night to feed in shallower water. This habitat features one of the largest schools ever exhibited of this bioluminescent species.

Clownfish and anemones

Thanks to the Pixar classic “Finding Nemo,” most people are familiar with the symbiotic relationship of this oceanic odd couple. In Island Life, this exhibit will show off how colorful pink skunk and false percula clownfish have adapted to seek shelter within the venomous, stinging tentacles of bubbletip anemones, which act as a kind of living island.

Marvelous Madagascar

At more than 225,000 square miles, Madagascar is 40 percent larger than California and ranks as the world’s fourth-largest island. Because its species have developed in isolation for millions of years, scientists estimate 75 percent of this African island’s plants and animals can be found nowhere else on Earth.

In a pair of Island Life exhibits sponsored by Unum, guests will become familiar with a wide variety of Malagasy reptiles and amphibians, including colorful panther chameleons, nimble Madagascar giant day geckos, poisonous mantella frogs and critically endangered radiated tortoises.

Throughout Island Life, guests can deepen their experience through activities that bring to life many of the species’ unique adaptations. Visitors can do their best clownfish impression by weaving through oversized anemone tentacles, light up touch-sensitive flashlight fish and snap selfies atop an enormous bronze sculpture of a Galapagos tortoise sponsored by Tennessee American Water.

“I want people to leave with a new appreciation of islands and to expand their thought about the animals that live on them,” says Jeff Worley, the Aquarium’s exhibit designer. “If we can start that when someone is 3 years old, then by the time they’re adults, they’ll be thinking differently about the world and maybe acting differently, too.”

Source: Tennessee Aquarium