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Bring Back the Natives
The Tennessee/Cumberland River Basin is one of the most diverse aquatic places in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute (TNARI) conserves and restores species with primary focus on native aquatic organisms. Through research, partnerships and conservation programs, TNARI hopes to promote the future well being of these and other animals.

Save the Sturgeon
Lake sturgeon can reach weights of more than 300 pounds. That's eight feet of “prehistoric” fish patrolling the depths of the Tennessee River. But just because sturgeon have been around for millions of years doesn’t mean they’re plentiful. In fact, due to habitat destruction, over-fishing and water pollution these shark-like fish virtually disappeared from Tennessee’s rivers during the past century.

When the Tennessee Aquarium and its partners agreed to save the sturgeon, it became a long-term commitment, and currently the Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute (TNARI) has completed three successful years of the 25-year reintroduction program.

The restoration begins with sturgeon eggs, hatched indoors in special tanks at the TNARI facilities at the University of Georgia’s Cohutta Fisheries Center. Once these fish are 10 inches long, a size considered suitable to survive in the wild, they are tagged with an individual identification number and some are implanted with a tiny radio transmitter so their movements can be tracked.

This past year, sturgeon eggs were hatched and the fry raised by the Aquarium and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Afterward, thousands of young sturgeon were tagged and released in the French Broad River. Since 2000 more than 8,000 sturgeon have been released, but because sturgeon grow and mature slowly, it will be many years before a self-sustaining population is reestablished.

The Turtle Trust
Turtles represent an important component of aquatic ecosystems, and due to their longevity and relatively restricted home ranges, they are superb subjects for environmental studies. Turtles also provide valuable insight regarding the stability of their community and the environment.

For three years the Aquarium, in connection with the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, has studied turtles in the Gorge. The project’s goal is to develop a better understanding of the turtle species living in this unique stretch of the Tennessee River and to monitor turtle populations to ensure their future well being.

In 2002 TNARI received a generous grant from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Lupton Renaissance Gift Fund. The gift will fund a new scientist to join the TNARI staff and help develop TNARI’s long-term turtle conservation and research program addressing regional, national and international needs. The herpetologist will continue the River Gorge turtle survey for another four years as well as join the UTC staff as their herpetologist

The Mighty Mollusks
We are in the midst of “the second largest extinction event on the planet,” and most people don’t even know it, says TNARI Research Scientist Paul Johnson. The victims? Snails, mussels and other aquatic animals that inhabit streams and rivers. And the problem is occurring right under our noses.

The Southeast has the largest diversity of freshwater snails in the world. But that status is quickly changing. The effects are most visible in the Coosa River Basin, where 41 out of the 72 documented freshwater mollusk extinctions in North America have occurred.

Snails are one of the building blocks of the food pyramid in a water system. But in addition to serving as food for fish and other animals, snails also benefit the environment by eating algae and debris on the river bottom. Thus the loss of snails from rivers and streams can be disastrous for aquatic ecosystems.

To stem the tide of extinction in southeastern rivers and streams, TNARI continues its efforts to survey and monitor mollusks within the region and to propagate mussels and snails in captivity for reintroduction into the wild.

TNARI scientists have successfully bred in captivity the Georgia rocksnail, the plicate rocksnail and the spiny riversnail - snails selected for propagation because habitat destruction has resulted in the loss of these species from over 85 percent of their historical range.

In 2002 TNARI researchers produced 11,864 snails in captivity. More than 2,700 spiny riversnails were released into the Tennessee River in 2002.

TNARI continued the release of finelined pocketbook mussels, animals that have nearly disappeared in the wild. In all, research scientists have produced nine mussel species, amounting to more than 11,800 mussels since 2000.

Discovery Hall
Discovery Hall is like a glass-bottom boat journey through the most fascinating aquatic vistas of the Southeast and features some of the most beautiful and bizarre creatures.

Visitors explore an underwater world where vibrantly colored sunfish float like jewels, or peek into a swamp nursery where baby alligators bask. From the strange spatula-shaped snout of the paddlefish to the huge claws of the painted river prawn, Discovery Hall gives guests an up-close look at the animals’ remarkable adaptations.

One of the most popular features of the gallery is the lake sturgeon touch station-an area where guests can actually have a hands-on encounter with the fish that once ruled the rivers of Tennessee. The sturgeon touch station is the only one in North America.

The interactive touch station also features video that explains how the well being of these and other native animals depends on the stewardship of their human neighbors. Guests also learn about the Aquarium’s efforts to reintroduce these animals to rivers in the region.

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