Georgia Aquarium has numerous teams who work hard behind-the-scenes to keep our animals safe and the Aquarium running. The Aquarium has over 10 million gallons of varying types of water across 100 exhibits. Keeping these exhibits clean and maintaining their quality is of upmost importance. Have you ever wondered how our exhibits get those different types of water and maintain their lighting and air quality? There is a team of superstar professionals working hard to make sure our animals have the ideal home.
Check out the Q&A with Susan Walsh, environmental health lab manager, below to learn more about her team in the environmental health lab who help keep Georgia Aquarium running and its animals healthy!
Who monitors the environmental health/water quality at Georgia Aquarium?
The environmental health team is responsible for water, air and lighting quality at Georgia Aquarium. We work with our colleagues in life support systems (LSS) to give feedback about pH, salinity, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, oxidants and temperature. Then, LSS can adjust the many elements of the life support infrastructure. Other teams we coordinate with are plant engineering, animal health, animal care and research.
For example, if air testing reveals a need to change an air filter, the plant engineering department is consulted. If a medication needs to be dosed into a habitat, the animal health team is consulted. The animal care team is consulted if we need additional samples to understand a habitat’s test results. Also, if additional animals and food are added to a habitat, our nutritionist in research helps calculate the added requirements on the nitrifying filters.
Savana Evans (foreground) preparing samples for Ion Chromatography. Morgan Kendall (background) entering test results into our database.
Morgan Kendall maintaining our Ion Chromatography system.
Where does Georgia Aquarium get its water from?
All water at Georgia Aquarium starts out as City of Atlanta tap water. We remove chlorine, filter through our reverse osmosis system, add a salt mix for sea water, and blend with recycled water from exhibits depending on the animals in that exhibit.
Are there different types of water (saltwater versus fresh water) that the environmental team monitors?
The waters at Georgia Aquarium mirror the waters on our planet and are tailored for each inhabitant. We have cold saltwater and tropical saltwater, freshwater and estuary water (low salinity). We duplicate other factors such as alkalinity, pH, seasonal variation, flow and nutrients. To maintain this water, 5,000 tests are performed each week on approximately 100 exhibits.
Does the Aquarium recycle the water through the galleries? How much water is filtered through the Aquarium in a day?
We filter over 250 million gallons of water per day at Georgia Aquarium. All of it is recycled, which allows us to retain more than 99.5% of our water. As an institution dedicated to conservation, the reuse of our water resource is very important to us. We do lose a little bit of water to evaporation or by splashing of dolphins and other animals that does get replenished by new conditioned water.
Who works on the environmental health team? Are they veterinarians, biologists, etc.?
The environmental health team works closely with the animal health team. In fact, we all share lab space. Keeping environments healthy is a powerful way to help keep the inhabitants healthy. The veterinarians and veterinary technicians are our colleagues and teammates. On the environmental health team, you will find staff with backgrounds in environmental engineering, animal science, biology and chemistry.
Georgia Aquarium is currently closed. Does that affect how the environmental health team monitors the exhibits? What might the team be doing differently without guests in the building?
The number of animal inhabitants at Georgia Aquarium and number of gallons of water remains the same, so the amount of testing to protect our inhabitants must remain consistent. The environmental health lab runs seven days a week and remote sensing devices allow LSS to monitor important parameters 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We do miss the opportunity to talk to our guests as they walk outside the lab on their Behind-the-Seas tours!