How do you keep the Aquarium tanks clean?

September 14, 2004

The Aquariums use a number of methods to keep tanks spic and span for animals and visitors. The best method is, of course, good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Divers at Fort Fisher present public education programs and perform tank maintenance five or more times per day in various tanks.

To keep tanks clean, clear and healthy, the Aquariums rely heavily on their team of volunteer SCUBA divers. These volunteers assist with routine maintenance. Coral and shipwrecks are scoured with toothbrushes. Sand and gravel are cleaned with an underwater vacuum. Glass is hand-cleaned on a regular basis.

However, there are also mechanically-designed features to help with tank maintenance. At the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, each tank is equipped with a life support system to ensure high water quality. These systems consist of numerous filtering and circulation devices. The water in each tank is completely recirculated, ranging from three times a day for larger tanks to more than a hundred times a day for smaller tanks.

Pumps, from a half horsepower to one hundred-horse power, operate life support systems. Some tanks use one pump. Others require six. Many tanks use a device called a protein skimmer that actually pulls protein from waste and food off the surface of the water. This helps prevent poor water quality.

Most of the filtration systems have a sand filter and Bioball tower. These are contained areas that allow bacteria to break down harmful chemicals, such as ammonia, which is produced naturally by living creatures. Sometimes other methods, such as ozone or ultraviolet light filters, are used to further break down these chemicals and control parasites and algae growth.

Both the Aquarium on Roanoke Island and the Aquarium at Fort Fisher have volunteer SCUBA dive programs, and the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores will operate a volunteer dive program when its expansion is complete in spring 2006. Volunteer divers descend into natural settings, where animals such as skates, sharks, morays, groupers and a multitude of colorful tropical fishes swim amid shipwrecks and reefs.

For more information, or to become part of an Aquarium volunteer dive team, contact the Volunteer Coordinator at Roanoke Island at 252-473-3493 or toll free 866-332-3475, or at Fort Fisher 910-458-8259 or 866-301-3476.