Publisher’s Note: When Donna Parrey began working on her story about the new Secrets of the Sea for the April and May issues of THE ISLAND REPORTER, she thought about the day she carried her new goldfish home from a pet store in a plastic bag years ago and became interested in learning about the actual mechanics of executing such a large move of sea life from their home at The Pier Aquarium to John’s Pass in Madeira Beach. “Anyone who has gazed up at the three tall acrylic cylinders, teeming with marine life in the lobby of the St. Petersburg Pier, might wonder just how it is going to happen,” she wrote. So she talked with Butch Ringelspaugh, curator of exhibits at The Pier Aquarium, to get some answers.
THE MECHANICS OF THE BIG AQUARIUM MOVE:
TIR: Exactly how big is this job?
BR: Altogether, we’ll be moving approximately 400 animals, including various fish, corals, anemones and other invertebrates, and close to 2,000 pounds of live rock and coral. Additionally, nearly 3,000 gallons of s altwater from our current home at The Pier Aquarium will need to be handled. About half of that will be moved to our new home in Madeira Beach, as we will use this opportunity to do a nice water change for all of the animals. We will then need to make close to another 13,000 gallons of synthetic seawater to fill all of the new exhibits and holding/quarantine aquaria since we’re creating a much larger environment for the marine life and acquiring new species. We currently have about 2,000 square feet of space, but our new home is more than six times that size, with 12,500 square feet of space.
TIR: Let’s start with those iconic acrylic tube aquariums in the lobby of the Pier. How in the world do you remove the fish from that environment? Pull a plug and let them swoosh out to a waiting tank truck? Vacuum them up to the top? Catch and release?
BR: Marine life loves to hide beneath rocks and coral, so the first task will be to remove as much of that environment as possible. Because of the unique configuration of these tanks, I’ll probably scuba dive them to net the fish.
TIR: In addition to the three tubes, how many other aquariums have occupants that will need to be captured and moved?
BR: There are 15 other tanks – 13 displayed in The Pier Aquarium, one small quarantine tank and the aquarium on display at the Columbia Restaurant. For these aquariums, after removing the rocks and coral, we’ll also lower the water level so the fish have less territory. We’re quite accustomed to the art of catching them quickly in nets.
TIR: What then? How do they get from here to there?
BR: The process is not as different as you might think from what people do when they bring store-bought fish home to introduce to their own aquariums. The secret is in preparing the new environment to be as close to the environment the animals are already accustomed to.
TIR: What are the steps involved in facilitating the relocation of the aquatic residents of The Pier Aquarium to their new home?
BR: The first step will be to set up the system that will eventually be home to our current population of animals as well as the rocks, corals and other items that make up their marine environment. Then we’ll create a quarantine area to be ready for the fish. We’ll begin to acclimate the new environment by dripping water from the system into their temporary homes until the environments match up perfectly.
TIR: I know that water temperature is important for tropical fish. What temperature are you aiming for?
BR: We typically keep our aquarium waters between 72 and 80 degrees. That’s the range of most tropical waters.
TIR: What else do you need to match?
BR: Two other important factors are the salinity (level of salt in the water) and the pH level (the range from acidic to basic). For saltwater fish, it’s easier for them to go from a high-salinity environment to a low-salinity environment than vice versa, which can be very stressful to the fish. In the course of our normal maintenance, we change out 15-30 percent of the total tank water volume each month, so creating safe
TIR: Tell us more about the sea life’s temporary homes. What happens between the time they’re happily swimming in the tanks that have been home to them and the time they arrive at the new center?
BR: Well, just like pet tropical fish are transported in bags of water, our animals will be transported in a variety of containers, depending on their size. The really small guys will be in plastic bags; others will be in buckets; and larger specimens will be in containers that range up to 50-gallon barrels, even trash cans on wheels! All will have powerful aerators to ensure they get the oxygen they need to breathe.
TIR: How long can the fish be safe in those temporary environments?
BR: You’d be surprised. Tropical fish from around the globe are transported in plastic bags and successfully make their journeys to pet stores on the other side of the world, sometimes spending two days in their bags.
TIR: What about the coral and rock? Is that easier to move?
BR: No, actually rock is very demanding and requires stable water quality. The coral also needs to be monitored. Some of our colonies have grown to a pretty significant size. While some pieces may break off in the move, the fragments are used to grow more coral.
TIR: What is the timeline for accomplishing the move?
BR: We expect the move process to take about two months, beginning in early 2013, with our grand opening planned in the spring.
TIR: What will become of the acrylic tube aquariums in the Pier lobby?
BR: The cylinders have had plenty of life. At fifteen years, they are past their prime and will be retired. We’ve had inquiries from artists and other facilities about those tubes, but they’ll be behemoths to move.
TIR: With all the expanded room at the John’s Pass facility, what new features can visitors expect to see?
BR: Currently, our largest tank is 500 gallons, but in Secrets of the Sea, we’ll have a 6,000 gallon aquarium. This will allow us to bring in some bigger animals, such as bonnet sharks, large grouper and drums. Our touch tank will be grander, too.
TIR: Thank you for sharing some of your own “secrets” of the sea.
SECRETS OF THE SEA PROMISES INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE:
With all the hoopla about what the next St. Petersburg Pier will look like once the iconic inverted pyramid is demolished, there’s one notable fact about what it won’t look like … it won’t include The Pier Aquarium that once served as a local focus point for marine life education. The aquarium is being reinvented in a big, bold way with a move to Madeira Beach where Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium plans to open its doors alongside the boardwalk at John’s Pass Village. Officials have been planning an expansion of the 2,000 sq. ft. facility, first established in 1988, and researched location options for several years. In fact, some of the renovations done five years ago were modular in design so that they could more easily be moved or repurposed in a move – but a move this far was not part of the original plan. “Initially, remaining in downtown St. Petersburg was a goal,” said E. Howard Rutherford, CEO of The Pier Aquarium, “but finding the right spot with sufficient contiguous space located on or next to the waterfront proved difficult.”
Officials finally found their solution in the John’s Pass complex and announced the decision last April. The move will allow the aquarium to be developed into a larger, research-oriented marine discovery center, more than six times the size of the original. The logistics of making that move are mindboggling. First, the layout of the new cuttingedge facility had to be designed. Officials selected Harvard Jolly Architecture for the job. With 12,500 sq. ft. of space over two levels, the center will house 11 separate aquariums, six galleries/exhibits, 12 “mystery stations,” a gift store and a learning lab/classroom.
Next comes the challenge of actually moving the water and sea life. How, exactly, do you prepare the fish and other marine life for a move across town? Butch Ringelspaugh, curator of exhibits, says the timeline will span two months. Once settled in its new home, the center is sure to be a feather – er – fin in the cap for Pinellas County tourism efforts. The new facility is expected to attract some 250,000 visitors to the area, pumping $8 million into the local economy. Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno is eager to welcome the facility to the John’s Pass complex. “Being in fisheries, I’m a big fan of aquariums, and the idea of having one in my own city will be great. I’m very excited; the residents are very excited; it’s a coup for the entire beach area,” he said.
The appeal of Secrets of the Sea lies in its ability to capitalize on the reputation that The Pier Aquarium developed as a smaller boutique aquarium that truly personalized the visitor’s relationship with the exhibits, according to Emily Stehle, public relations/marketing director. “The aquariums in this region may have similar missions but different goals. For example, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is known for providing rehabilitation; it’s what they’re really good at. And The Florida Aquarium in Tampa provides a large-scale attraction, as a zoo might. But we’re appreciated for our ability to connect visitors with the greater marine science community, to be more interactive, to get parents and children talking and teaching one another.” What’s more, officials are pleased that 40,000 students from six counties will have access to the educational offerings that Secrets of the Sea provides. The center is introducing a Sea Sleuths program that is designed to engage visitors in a series of interactive mystery stations. Students and other visitors will solve mysteries in a fun fashion by exploring the aquariums, galleries and exhibits, some focusing on dolphin identification, animal tracking via satellite, monitoring reef changes and other marine and environmental issues relevant to the Tampa Bay area.
The Pier Aquarium is fortunate to be part of the St. Petersburg Ocean Team – a robust team of 14 marine science-related groups representing a consortium of governmental agencies – local, regional, state and national – as well as research and development firms, environmental organizations and educational institutions. This team provides much of the technology for the exhibits, and The Pier Aquarium helps to bring these research projects to the public in a friendly, engaging manner. Rutherford points out that our area is a prominent base of marine-related activity. “It’s exciting that Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium will be the public face of that activity, showing everyone exactly how they benefit from the mysteries that are being solved. We are facilitating the development of a new generation of environmental stewards.”
Rutherford agrees that if you remember walking down the St. Petersburg Pier, entering the facility and staring up in awe at the trio of acrylic cylinders housing tropical fish, you should be prepared to be amazed at the splendor of their new home. The Secrets of the Sea promises visitors a fun and learning experience that includes game fish and predators, crustaceans and coral, estuaries and reefs, a Tampa Bay touch tank and … jellyfish in the lobby! The Pier Aquarium staff is working on updating its membership program and pricing, but they expect to continue offering reciprocal membership arrangements with selected museums and other attractions, as they currently do. Rutherford said that Secrets of the Sea is making progress in its $5 million capital campaign, but expects that the beach community will want to step up and take advantage of the opportunity to sponsor some part of the gulf beaches’ new attraction anchor.
Progress Energy has already provided a grant to underwrite the “Energizing Research Mystery Station,” and a family foundation is sponsoring the lobby’s jellyfish tank. Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has pledged to support the display of the Science on a Sphere exhibit, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District is doing the same for the Planet Water exhibit. “Senate Bill 1274, on Governor Scott’s desk now, contains language that will make aquariums eligible for proceeds from the bed tax dollars, which also brings good news for Secrets of the Sea,” added Mayor Palladeno. Looks like the gulf beaches community is in for a wet and wonderful gift when the Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration
Donna J. Parrey is a freelance writer based in St. Pete Beach, Florida, and the founder of Write Brain Wordsmiths. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
THE PIER AQUARIUM ANNOUNCES MOVE TO MADEIRA BEACH
John’s Pass Village to Be Home of Marine Discovery Center & Aquarium
St. Petersburg, FL (April 19, 2011) – The Pier Aquarium’s Board of Directors today announced a major relocation, expansion and re-branding of the 22-year-old aquarium in its new location at John’s Pass Village on Madeira Beach. The new 11,500 square foot facility, which more than triples the current exhibit space, is scheduled to open by the end of 2012.
In its new home, the attraction, now called the Marine Discovery Center & Aquarium (MDCA), will be designed to bring the public together with state-of-the-art marine research, innovation and technology that is being developed by the St. Petersburg Ocean Team and other marine related agencies and organizations. Four major new exhibits will be premiered – Science on a Sphere, Planet Water, Ocean Today and Climate Change – as well as the addition of larger live exhibits and an expanded Touch Tank.
“By marrying cutting-edge technology with live marine exhibits, MDCA will entertain and engage our visitors and create appreciation for our planet’s marine environment, above and under water,” said Board Chair and USF Professor of Marine Science, Mark Luther, Ph.D. “We will show visitors a world they cannot see anywhere else.”
MDCA will occupy the first and second floors in John’s Pass Village, adjacent to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and the new Hooters restaurants.
“The Marine Discovery Center & Aquarium is a wonderful addition to John’s Pass Village, already a great shopping and dining destination,” said Patricia Hubbard, CEO of Hubbard Properties which owns the building. “We can now offer our visitors, and especially our local families, a full day of quality entertainment in one convenient waterfront location.”
“With direct access to both the bay and Gulf of Mexico, MDCA will serve as an expanded resource for teachers and students for tours, projects and special programs. Currently, more than 30,000 students participate in our education programs,” said MDCA President & CEO E. Howard Rutherford.
Rutherford said master planning and naming opportunities are in development. A $3 million capital campaign will be announced later this year.
ST. PETERSBURG — Sorry St. Petersburg, the Pier Aquarium has deeper waters to plumb.
Faced with dramatically declining attendance, an uncertain future at the Pier and failed attempts to relocate in downtown, the aquarium is leaving after 23 years and is moving to John’s Pass. The non-profit marine research attraction plans to open in 10,000 square feet by December 2012.
“We will have three times the exhibit space. It’s going to be a much more interesting and exciting experience,” said Mark Luther, chairman of the aquarium’s board and a professor at USF’s College of Marine Science. The renamed Marine Discovery Center and Aquarium will showcase the marine science and technology in the area with interactive exhibits. The current aquarium is 2,200 square feet.
The Pier is slated to be demolished in 2012 or 2013 to make way for a $50 million makeover. Since the talk of changes began, residents have been unsure of the attraction’s current status. Add that to a dismal economy and extremely cramped quarters and aquarium attendance has dropped from about 175,000 people in 2005 to around 85,000 last year.
“I was hopeful they would maintain a presence downtown,” said St. Petersburg City Council member Herb Polson. “But you’ve got to strike when you can and if they got a good offer in a waterfront setting I hope it works well for them. It will be our loss..”
“I know nobody ever came to me and said, ‘We’re reaching a point where we’re going to have to leave,’ ” said council member Steve Kornell. “We’re the hub of marine science research in the whole Southeastern United States. I think we should have an education component for the Pier.”
The aquarium has considered seven different downtown venues including BayWalk, the St. Petersburg Museum of History and a city-owned facility next to Al Lang Field, Luther said, but the rates or availability never panned out.
Aquarium officials announced in May that it would move elsewhere downtown. A later survey of members, sponsors and donors found there was support for a location at the beaches if downtown didn’t work out. With $700,000 in grants and donations in hand, the aquarium will try to raise $3 million more for the new space.
Luther thinks the new facility will still draw many residents from St. Petersburg and throughout the area as well as more tourists.
“It caused me great concern moving away from downtown, but the reality is the Pier is going away,” he said, “and we don’t want to be the last ones to turn the light out when they leave.”