Stephanie Stone (415) 379-5121
Andrew Ng (415) 379-5123
WORLD'S DEEPEST LIVING CORAL REEF DISPLAY
UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN SAN FRANCISCO
Exhibit will be part of the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park
SAN FRANCISCO (March 20, 2006) – The concrete walls of a 212,000-gallon aquarium tank have just been poured in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The tank, which now stands 25 feet tall in the middle of the construction site for the new California Academy of Sciences, will hold the world’s deepest living coral reef display when the museum opens in 2008. Visitors will be able to view the reef and its inhabitants from the surface as well as from five different underwater windows.
Often called rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are the most diverse aquatic ecosystems on the planet. They are also among the most endangered – up to 70% of the world’s tropical coral reefs may disappear within the next 15 years due to the impacts of global warming and other environmental stresses. Worldwide, over 25% have already been destroyed or badly damaged. These ecosystems are important to save, not only because of the biodiversity they contain, but because they provide protection for coastal communities against tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons. Additionally, hundreds of millions of people depend on coral reefs for their livelihood or for food. Despite their global importance, most people on the planet have never seen a living reef. When the new California Academy of Sciences opens in 2008, over a million visitors a year will be able to experience the splendor of a living Philippine coral reef and learn what they can do to help save coral reefs around the world.
The Academy chose to feature a Philippine coral reef because the reef systems in the Philippines are among the most diverse in the world. The new tank will hold a variety of delicate soft and hard corals, as well as sharks, rays, and more than 2,000 colorful reef fishes. All of the animals will be captive bred, or will come from sustainable wild sources, highlighting the importance of in-country research and conservation programs.
In preparation for the opening of the new exhibit, the Academy is currently growing corals in its temporary facility at 875 Howard Street. In one tank, which measures 18 feet deep, Academy biologists are growing corals on adjustable racks to determine which species grow best at different depths. This 20,000-gallon experimental tank holds about 200 square feet of living corals, as well as several hundred reef fish. Additionally, the Academy has just installed 46 smaller tanks that are dedicated to the coral rearing program. These tanks, called “coral rearing pods,” are actually agricultural bins that have been fitted out with life support systems. Each pod can hold 16 square feet of living corals.
Although they look like underwater plants, corals are actually animals that are related to anemones and jellyfish. Because these animals are able to reproduce asexually, biologists can grow new corals by breaking off pieces of an existing coral colony and affixing them to new pieces of rock. Academy biologists use a variety of creative tools to encourage corals to attach themselves to new substrates, including superglue, rubber bands, toothpicks, epoxy putty and fishing line. The coral rearing pods at the Academy are currently “planted” with small pieces of coral that have been broken off from larger colonies. By 2008, they will have grown to fill an area of nearly 800 square feet.
It is a challenge to grow corals at depths greater than six feet, since it is difficult to replicate the energy from a tropical sun. The ceiling above the coral reef tank is studded with skylights, to allow the maximum amount of daylight to reach the reef below. To supplement that natural light, the Academy will install 120 metal halide lamps, which will simulate the intensity and spectrum of natural sunlight. These powerful lights were originally designed to flood football stadiums with light. The new tank will also employ powerful filtration systems to accommodate the high level of biomass it will contain. All 212,000 gallons of water in the tank will be filtered once every 45 minutes. Additionally, a water jet system will simulate wave action and stimulate the corals.
When the spectacular new exhibit opens, it will incorporate interactive displays, and regular in-tank diver presentations. To support its dive programs, the new Academy will be recruiting over 100 volunteer divers to help maintain the large exhibits, feed the animals, and interact with the public. Academy scientists will also use the tank as a resource for their scientific studies.