New coral reef tank, LEDs unveiled at aquarium
by Michelle Z. Donahue
Following a sudden closure for emergency repairs at the start of the year, the St. Lucie County Aquarium and Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit revealed its all-new, revamped coral reef tank earlier this month.
Installed in summer of 2001, the 2,500-gallon tank began leaking just before the New Year holiday. After carefully draining the tank and setting up temporary living quarters for the exhibit’s corals, aquarium staff found the source of the leak: a tiny hole in the fiberglass floor of the tank, ground out by two small shells that had been tumbling out of reach from the tank’s earliest days.
“They did nothing but tumble for 16 years,” said Bill Hoffman, who manages the Smithsonian’s exhibits at the aquarium.
Built atop a ton of sand and several tons of rock, dismantling the exhibit and removing its contents was a delicate, work-intensive procedure. More than 20 species of stony and soft corals and anemones were relocated to a temporary box on the upper level of the aquarium for over three months while repairs were made on the main tank. Unfortunately, a few of the exhibit’s original coral specimens didn’t survive the ordeal.
The crisis opened the door for Hoffman to make several long-desired improvements to the aesthetics and flow of the tank, as well as install new LED lighting. With the rockwork located more to the rear of the tank instead of the previous dead center arrangement, Hoffman said the new layout allows visitors a better glimpse of the tank’s resident coral, algae, invertebrates and fish.
The addition of LED lighting to the tank completes the aquarium’s conversion to energy-efficient lighting, which came with a second, unexpected benefit: a flush of robust new growth in the exhibit’s seagrasses and mangrove displays. Hoffman said the seagrasses have responded with such enthusiasm that they may need to be thinned, a move that’s “virtually unheard of” in an aquarium setting. And the mangrove has developed several large new prop roots that show no signs of withering—a first, Hoffman says, in the tree’s 16 years of life in the exhibit.