Forbes' Sea Star (Photo: Jessie Forand) A few words from ECHO's  Director of Animal Care and Facilities Steve Smith: I...

Changes at the Champlain Sea

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Forbes' Sea Star (Photo: Jessie Forand)


A few words from ECHO's Director of Animal Care and Facilities Steve Smith:

If you’d been to ECHO in the past few weeks, had you ventured up to the Champlain Sea habitat, you’d have noticed the tide went out a few weeks ago. 

We’re talking way, way, way out! 

The Champlain Sea display, with the sea stars, the urchins, the hermit crabs, and all the other cool marine invertebrates, was drained for an exciting face lift.

Before the system could be drained, all the marine invertebrates had to be removed. They were carefully removed from their habitat and placed in “back of house” holding tanks. Then the Champlain Sea display was drained. During draining, the project took on a new element when the habitat began leaking. Often, in big displays, when you remove the water, you remove massive amounts of  weight that press down on seals and fittings. When the weight is gone, the seals expand and leaks begin.

Frilled Sea Anemone (Photo: Jessie Forand)

While the system was drained, we "chased" the source of the leak as best we could. That’s always a challenge because water can move around, away from the leak, before it shows itself outside a supposedly watertight container. We knew we had one pipe coming into the habitat; we hoped it was the source of the leak. We silicone sealed where it came into the habitat and hoped it was the source of the leak.

After the display walls completely dried and the display floor was thoroughly cleaned, an elevated floor was created using fiberglass grating affixed to  PVC legs. Plastic mesh was siliconed onto the grating so the new exhibit substrate (gravel) and the invertebrates themselves wouldn’t fall through the grating to the old floor below. The new raised floor was siliconed to the display walls to hold it all in place and again, to keep the critters from falling into the abyss below. Gravel was added to create a more natural habitat.

When the project was first started, we had planned to use fiberglass fabric and epoxy resin to create the new floor, but that kind of floor would have almost no flow through it. We opted to use the grating and mesh so we would have water flow through the gravel and through the new false floor, which would keep the gravel and the entire habitat cleaner and healthier for the marine specimens waiting to return to their home. 

From the depths of the Champlain Sea (Photo: Jessie Forand)

The habitat has two sources of filtered one: a surface flow that can be seen and another pipe (the one we thought might be the source of the leak), at the bottom of the display, that brought filtered water to flow across the bottom of the display. Had we used the resined fiberglass fabric for the new floor, the bottom flow’s effectiveness to keep the habitat clean would have been greatly reduced.

The exhibit renovation was done. No more hidden chasm! Now came the unnerving time: time to fill and see if the system leaked again. 

It didn’t! One step closer.

We still had much to. 

While the system was undergoing renovation, the filtration system which includes a sand filter, a protein skimmer, a bio tower,  a UV sterilizer and a collection sump, was shut down. No water flow. Potentially foul water sitting in filtration components for weeks. Not something we wanted circulating in the display with the critters. We filled and back washed the system for days to flush it out.

Long-clawed Hermit Crab (Photo: Jessie Forand)

The system was allowed to run, without live specimens in the display, for days. After four days, we added salt to bring the salinity up to 32ppt. Now we were ready to bring the animals home. 

We added the first few critters, one of each species; the canaries in the coal mine to see if we had good water quality. We kept a close eye on them. They were fine. We added more animals, every day, every time doubling the population in the habitat, not wanting to add too many too quickly, which might incite a little invertebrate melee especially among the hermit crabs, who can get a little scrappy.

Now all of the animals are back in their newly renovated home. The deep hidden chasm is gone. The change gives the hermit crabs, who often stayed at the bottom, twice the habitat by putting the upper shelf within their reach. The elevated "sea bed" gives ECHO guests a view to all the animals that make the Champlain Sea their home.

Stop  by now and check it out! 



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