Targeted collaborative conservation will help local agricultural operations improve soil and water quality and protect aquatic life
CHATTANOOGA — Tennessee is as much a patchwork quilt of farms as it is an intricately woven lacework of streams and rivers. Soon, farmers and the aquatic life living alongside them will reap the benefits of $10 million in federal funds to support water-friendly agricultural improvements in the rolling uplands of the state’s southeastern corner.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the allocation of more than $197 million to support Regional Conservation Partnership Programs (RCPP) throughout the nation. These initiatives promote coordination between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partnering organizations that are already engaged in conservation efforts.
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Tennessee Aquarium fellowships bring minorities into the science space
CHATTANOOGA — Never let it be said that all summer jobs are created equal.
Squatting on his heels to dangle the flexible hose of an environmental DNA pump into a briskly flowing North Georgia stream, the last few weeks have been anything but ordinary for Spencer Trimpe. With the pump’s droning motor steadily collecting a sample of water to filter out genetic traces of the stream’s inhabitants, he doesn’t bother holding back a smile.
A lanky junior biology major from Thomas More University, Trimpe is one of two students selected as part of the Tennessee Aquarium’s George Benz Aquatic Ecology Fellowship. Instead of manning a cash register or waiting tables this summer, he’s assisting freshwater scientists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute with a variety of research projects.
Emblematic brook trout get a second chance at home in Southern Appalachian streams
Casey Phillips is a writer for the Tennessee Aquarium.
CHATTANOOGA — A team from the Tennessee Aquarium, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Trout Unlimited hiked along — and occasionally waded through — a pristine tributary of South Fork Citico Creek in Cherokee National Forest.
Navigating an obstacle course of tangled mountain laurel branches and moss-slickened boulders in late May, the team followed the stream as it gently descended through the Appalachian uplands. When a calm pool or shaded rocky overhang presented itself, they paused to dip their nets into five-gallon buckets filled with wriggling juvenile Southern Appalachian brook trout.
These little fish, raised to about two inches over six months, were the focus of more than six months of work at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the impetus for the hours-long trek into the East Tennessee woods.
Butterflies are back at the Tennessee Aquarium after pandemic bottleneck
Some of the Tennessee Aquarium’s most entrancing, cherished residents — and there are literally thousands of them — have been absent for more than a year and a half.
The aquarium has been unable to source butterflies to fill the Ocean Journey building’s Butterfly Garden since early 2020 because of supply chain disruptions.
The butterflies typically originate from Costa Rica. Every week, about 500 butterfly chrysalises — the life stage between caterpillars and full-fledged adults — are delivered to the aquarium. By raising specific plants, Costa Rican farmers can attract butterflies that use the plants as egg-laying sites and feeding sources for their offspring. By collecting and shipping chrysalises to facilities like the aquarium, farmers can earn a reliable income without resorting to destructive agricultural practices that threaten their country’s rainforests.
And just in time for the holidays, the Tennessee Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden will reopen to the public Nov. 5. This warm, light-filled gallery in Chattanooga is once again filled with these jewel-like insects, which flutter in the air by the hundreds.
“They have so many bright colors and intricate patterns that they’re kind of like living works of art,” said entomologist II Rose Segbers. “The butterfly garden is special because it’s completely immersive. There really aren’t any barriers between guests and the butterflies or the habitat.
“You can see everything just like you would in nature, and a butterfly might even land on you.”
Walking through the garden is like being whisked into the steamy, lush wilds of a Costa Rican rainforest. The interior of the gallery is always kept warm and humid — a welcome escape from the cooler, dreary days of autumn — and seemingly every leaf, blossom and branch serves as temporary resting spot for butterflies of every description.
At any one time, the garden houses as many as 1,500 butterflies. These can come from any of more than two dozen species, from cerulean-winged blue morphos to enormous tawny owls with their tell-tale eyespots.
“You get a lot of variety in here,” Segbers said. “If you come here one week, you’ll see a certain variety of butterflies, but if you come back a week later, you might see completely different ones. It gives people a good excuse to keep coming back.”
The cocoon-like chrysalises can be viewed hanging from racks through a special viewing window in the garden. Their shells often look drastically different from the butterflies within. Who would suspect that the familiar orange, black and white monarch butterfly would come from a gold-fringed, jade chrysalis or that leaf-like pink or green chrysalises are host to brilliant yellow cloudless sulfurs?
Baby penguin, endangered turtles and puffer fish are the newest additions to the Tennessee Aquarium
(Casey Phillips is a communications specialist at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga)
As any parent knows, kids tend to do whatever you least expect. In the case of an endangered four-eyed turtle hatchling at the Tennessee Aquarium, however, merely existing was — in itself — a huge surprise.
On July 11, a volunteer was tending an enclosure in a backup area of the River Journey exhibit. This habitat was only supposed to house a female endangered four-eyed turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata, a largely montaine species native to parts of China and Vietnam), but the volunteer soon discovered that the adult turtle wasn’t alone. Perched atop a layer of vegetation was a tiny hatchling that, by all accounts, shouldn’t have been there.
“The adult female hadn’t been with a male in over a year, so we did not check to see if she had laid this year,” says Bill Hughes, the aquarium’s herpetology coordinator. “To say the least, finding an egg, let alone a hatchling, was unexpected.”
In a virtuous cycle of life, native brookies return to Tellico River watershed in southeastern Cherokee National Forest.
(The writer produced this original piece for the Tennessee Aquarium).
Navigating through a thicket of branches while clambering across slick boulders in a rushing mountain stream is a difficult task in the best of times. Doing so while attempting to balance 40-pound buckets of water filled with imperiled fish takes the challenge to an entirely new level.
A team of scientists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute drove to one of the lush, high-elevation streams in the southern reaches of the Cherokee National Forest. During a brief lull between rainstorms, they were joined by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency representatives and the U.S. Forest Service to celebrate a homecoming for 250 long-lost residents of this gorgeous landscape: juvenile Southern Appalachian brook trout.
Carefully navigating through a snarl of streamside vegetation, participants paused to release five or six trout at a time into pools with overhangs where the young fish could hide from predators and ambush floating insects that washed into the stream. The going was tough, but those involved in the effort to restock almost a kilometer of this pristine creek say the challenge was worth the reward of seeing Tennessee’s only native trout back in its ancestral waters.
“The days when we release fish, especially brook trout, are really special moments,” said Tennessee Aquarium Aquatic Conservation Biologist Dr. Bernie Kuhajda. “We’re with these fish all the way from when we first bring adults into the Conservation Institute to spawn, to watching the eggs start to develop, to the juveniles that are just a few inches long and ready to release here.
“It really is knowing that we get to help restore trout to the full circle of life. Days like today are the culmination of all that work to put trout back into the Southeastern streams where they belong.”
Like many Appalachian streams, this tributary of the North River in the Tellico River watershed hasn’t hosted the brook trout for almost a century. Clearcutting of forests in the early 1900s made waters in the region too warm. Combined with the introduction of brown and rainbow trout, “brookies” were effectively lost from more than 75 percent of the waterways where they once thrived.
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