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Aquarium Announces New Conservation Partnership with Volkswagen

4/6/2010 3:28:40 PM

                                              Senior aquarist Matt Hamilton explains feeding procedures to "Keeper Kids" inside the Aquarium's new Barrens Topminnow Lab exhibit.

(Above: Senior Aquarist Matt Hamilton explains feeding procedures to "Keeper Kids" inside the Aquarium's new Barrens Topminnow Lab exhibit.)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007

New Volkswagen Partnership Helps Drive Conservation Efforts

Added Support for Tennessee Aquarium Field Projects


Chattanooga, Tenn. (April 6, 2010) – A wide range of  Tennessee Aquarium conservation efforts will get a boost from Volkswagen, which today becomes the official sponsor of the Aquarium’s conservation efforts. This new partnership will help support field projects ranging from the award-winning “Saving the Sturgeon” program to work with hellbender salamanders and other endangered aquatic species.


“Sustainability is one of Volkswagen’s core company values, so supporting environmental conservation and education with the Tennessee Aquarium is a perfect fit,” said Dr. Guenther Scherelis, Volkswagen General Manager of Communication. “Volkswagen is proud to be the Official Sponsor of Tennessee Aquarium conservation programs and the real-world effects they are having on the ecosystem here in Tennessee,” he said.


Up until now, most of the Aquarium’s conservation work has been done off-site at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, TNACI, located in Cohutta, Georgia. Now, thanks in part to this new partnership with Volkswagen, Aquarium guests are able to see the Barrens Topminnow Lab exhibit in action and interact with aquarists there every time they visit.  “This lab doesn’t just look like a working lab for propagation, it is a working lab,” says Thom Demas, curator of fishes.


Lately there’s been a bit of a Barrens baby boom at the Tennessee Aquarium. And it’s a population explosion that will help save a native fish species from the brink of extinction. “We have had nearly 1,500 Barrens topminnows young of the year already,” said senior aquarist Matt Hamilton. “My production target for the year was 2,000 juveniles.” He points to this new work environment for the increase in topminnow births. “The fish absolutely love it,” Hamilton said. “We had 88 topminnows born this past week alone. Part of the reason for this fast start is warmer, more controlled water temperatures than what we had at TNACI or at the Animal Care Facility.”


While spring break “Keeper Kids” will be getting a closer look at this important conservation effort from inside the Barrens Topminnow Lab exhibit this week, Hamilton and others will be releasing Aquarium-reared topminnows into Middle Tennessee springs. “We will be working with our partners to release about 200 fish into the Elk River system and another 300 topminnows between two sites within the Duck River system,” said Hamilton.


The Barrens topminnow was first discovered in 1983 in a handful of locations in middle Tennessee. This rare fish almost disappeared forever less than 10 years later. At the time, the Barrens topminnow was surviving in just two locations. “This fish by all means qualifies to be protected by the Endangered Species Act,” Hamilton said. But instead of federally listing the fish, officials decided to try working with area landowners to protect the habitat and begin an unprecedented restoration pilot project to save the Barrens topminnow.


Instead of restricting water and land use, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials entered into cooperative agreements with local landowners to identify suitable habitat for the fish and protect those areas. In some cases that meant providing fencing to keep cattle out of sensitive areas, or paving streambeds for cattle crossings. In other cases it meant helping develop alternative water sources so local farmers could still water their livestock without degrading the habitat for the fish.


The Tennessee Aquarium began raising Barrens topminnows for the restoration project in 1998 along with partners from Conservation Fisheries, Inc., Tennessee Technological University, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.  This week’s field work will bring the total number of Barrens topminnows released to 32,000. “Thanks to these efforts, Barrens topminnows are now found in 11 populations in Tennessee instead of just two,” said Hamilton. 


This new partnership with Volkswagen helps strengthen TNACI efforts to protect and preserve vital freshwater species in the Tennessee Valley.



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