Conservation Efforts: Making a Difference
The long-term health and sustainability of animals in the wild and in our care is a top priority for the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The Aquarium works with regional, national and international organizations to conduct research and collect valuable scientific information used to protect vulnerable animal populations. The N.C. Aquariums Division's Conservation Advisory Committee identifies scientific research projects that fall within the mission and vision of the Aquariums and funds these efforts through the generous financial support of the North Carolina Aquarium Society.
The Aquarium is currently focused on three vulnerable animal populations: sea turtles, amphibians and sharks.
All sea turtles are listed as endangered or threatened. Many factors have contributed to their population decline including development on nesting beaches, plastics in the ocean and over hunting. Five of seven sea turtle species live in North Carolina waters, including the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), the green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Erytmochleys imbricata), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempi) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea).
The Aquarium is committed to sea turtle education and taking action to care for sick or stranded sea turtles. The Aquarium works with sea turtle stranding networks, nesting beach patrols and other Aquariums and sea turtle rehabilitation facilities like the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center at the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island to aid these animals.
Twenty-four sea turtles were cared for by the Aquarium and released into the Atlantic in 2015.
Carolina Gopher Frogs
The Carolina gopher frog (Rana capito), while not currently classified as endangered in North Carolina, previously boasted more than 30 populations across the state. Only six remain.
Pressured by destruction of habitat, drought and diseases, the remaining populations face a higher risk of local extinction. In an
effort to offset the rapid decline of these animals, the Aquarium is collaborating with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) on a long-term initiative to supplement natural breeding, stabilize existing populations and responsibly maintain the genetic diversity of the species.
In 2015, Aquarium staff released 132 healthy gopher frog metamorphs that were weighed, measured, and tagged with a Visual Implant Elastomer (VIE). The tags allow Aquarium and NCWRC staff to identify frogs by year of release, if collected in future survey efforts. In addition, 334 late-stage tadpoles were released.
Sharks play a vital role in keeping the ocean healthy and in balance. Yet their populations are threatened by overfishing and the increased demand in some parts of the world for shark fins. In addition, sharks grow slowly, reach sexual maturity late and reproduce in small numbers. These biological factors mean shark populations do not recover quickly when their numbers are depleted.
As a member in the South East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation (SEZARC), supported through NCAS Conservation funds, the Aquarium is collaborating with other major aquariums on research initiatives to support shark populations in the wild. Aquarium staff has also engaged in field training in the handling and sampling of adult sand tiger sharks. In addition, representatives from all three N.C. Aquariums participated in a SEZARC sand tiger working group.