Each week we are going to post about conservation efforts and projects going on at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. This week we’re going to tell you about our coral conservation efforts—and about a group of kids who took matters into their own hands.
While corals may look like they are a form of plant life, they are actually living creatures. Even more surprising to some: they are one of the most important species of animal in the ocean. They make up only 2 percent of the ocean, but around 25 percent of all ocean species rely on corals to sustain life. Were corals to disappear, so would nearly a quarter of the ocean’s biodiversity. Unfortunately, this is becoming a real possibility. Factors like pollution, sedimentation, bleaching, temperature changes, and an increase in predators are causing coral numbers to rapidly decrease.
So we at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are taking action. We have launched or participated in multiple efforts to conserve and educate about corals.
Project SECORE is a collaboration between the leading coral scientists from around the world and public aquarium professionals. We began working with SECORE in 2006, and every year since 2008 aquarist Bob Snowden has traveled to the Caribbean to help restore reefs during their yearly spawning. In 2010 and 2011 Paul Selvaggio, chief photographer and creative director at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, accompanied Snowden to document the project. He compiled a set of these beautiful photos into a book to help educate the public. Profits from its sale benefit Project SECORE and coral conservation efforts at the Zoo.
In addition, we were also involved in coral rescue in Florida in the fall of 2011. A Navy pier in Key West, FL, was scheduled for demolition, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notified a handful of aquariums that the demolition would destroy a number of threatened and endangered corals that were attached to it. Five staff members from the PPG Aquarium traveled to the site to collect the corals, and are now being cared for and reproduced to be placed in the wild and given to aquariums for educational purposes.
We also launched several programs that are entirely education-based. In collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and Spark, we developed an interactive children’s exhibit called Reefbot that featured a remote-controlled underwater robot that could see, recognize, and identify fish species in the Aquarium’s Big Ocean tank. The Reefbot allowed kids to experience the animals in a new way, and helped get them excited about the vitality and biodiversity of coral reefs and the importance of their conservation.
But sometimes the best way to get kids excited about conservation is an old-fashioned conversation with someone who really cares about the animals. A group of students from Carmalt School in Pittsburgh proved this when they began a “Cash for Corals” fundraiser at their school following a field trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. After talking to aquarist Bob Snowden and watching a short documentary about the impact of disappearing corals, the sixth and seventh graders decided to take action. In the end they raised over $1,000 for coral conservation.
Education and conservation are at the heart of everything we do here at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Check back each week to read about more of our current projects!