Thursday, July 1, 2010

Plugging a Leak

The Puget Sound Salt Water Tide Pool at Pacific Science Center is in great shape for an exhibit of over twenty years. But after a year of close calls and “band aid” fixes, we realized that the time had come for some major plumbing repairs. PVC becomes brittle with age, and there were signs that some of our pipes would not last much longer. While many home owners can tell you that any sort of plumbing repairs can be tricky and burdensome, in this instance there was a special catch. Plumbing cannot be repaired with water in it. And if the water was gone, the animals had to go too.

Enter the Seattle Aquarium, whose Curator of Fish and Invertebrates, Tim Carpenter, generously offered to accommodate the animals while we got our plumbing work done. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife was equally helpful in providing us with all the permits we needed to transfer the animals off site. No wildlife should every be captured or transported without a clear purpose and without first completing all necessary permitting.

Having secured a place for them, we had to remove the animals from their home, which they had become quite attached to. Literally. Sea stars and sea urchins cling to the stony shores with many tiny tube feet. Anemones hold on with a single, powerful base that adheres tightly to rocks. Chitons and limpets can attach so firmly that hungry gulls can’t pry them from their stones. And while fishes don’t stick to things, they are very good at hiding. Only the hermit crabs are actually easy to collect.

But through patience and gentle prying, we were able to collect our animals and sort them by group into buckets. Predators like sea stars and anemones were kept separate from their food items, such as hermit crabs and shell fish.

While the animals were away, there was more to do than plumbing. We changed out all the sand and water, cleaned the filter medium and changed the manifolds. We had a good deal of help from PSC staffers in other departments who were excited to help our tide pool animals. Various staff members from IT supervisors to cashier coordinators, helped us empty and clean the tide pool, and transport our animals safely to and from the Aquarium.

The animals appear to have done well while they were away, and we are grateful to the aquarium for all of their help. But we were eager to have them back in our tide pool. We wanted them to stay in good condition upon their return, so before they went back in we tested the water’s salinity, temperature and pH. Although marine life amazes us with its ability to survive difficult conditions, the better care it gets, the more likely it is to do well.

Even with the best care, we expect the first week they are back to be rough. Though the water is sparkling, we are keeping the exhibit closed until we are certain that the anemones have formed good strong bonds with the substrate. We will be excited to reopen the exhibit and we’re sure there are also plenty of visitors out there who will be excited to see, touch and learn from these fascinating creatures again!

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