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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Zoo takes visitors undersea again

5/17/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Aniqua Feerasta

Journey to the Reef at the Akron Zoo features this giant Pacific octopus, which shares a tank with starfish.
WEST AKRON — The jellyfish exhibit at the Akron Zoo was so popular that officials there decided to keep the aquatic theme going with its newest attraction.

Journey to the Reef opens to the public May 26 in the Komodo Kingdom exhibit space. The exhibit keeps a few jellyfish species that were a hit before, but also brings in new creatures from under the sea, such as an octopus, Moray eels, sea horses, venomous lionfish and live coral.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to educate people,” said David Barnhardt, the zoo’s director of marketing and guest services. “It gives us the opportunity to tell the story of the reef, why it’s important and why we should care. It’s the most delicate ecosystem we have on earth.”

The jellyfish exhibit debuted in 2008 and helped set attendance records that year. Barnhardt said the popularity of that exhibit led the zoo to decide to do something in a similar vein.

Anemonefish like these clownfish are part of the Akron Zoo’s new exhibit, along with anemones.
Photos courtesy of Akron Zoo
Also, many of the zoo’s employees, like Pete Mohan, director of animal operations, had been employed at Sea World of Ohio and had a lot of expertise with sea life, Barnhardt said.

Mohan said the exhibit will examine reef life from the Caribbean, Indo-Pacific and Northwest Pacific coasts.

“We wanted to talk about conservation issues relative to reef health,” Mohan said. “Our reefs are threatened. There are real threats, especially to ones in the Caribbean.”

He said there are some types of coral in the Florida Keys region that are virtually extinct.

To help educate visitors, each tank will be accompanied by a digital screen that will include information on what is displayed.

Mohan and Barnhardt agreed they expect one of the most popular animals featured in the exhibit to be the Giant Pacific Octopus. The specimen comes from the waters from Northern California to Alaska, Mohan said.

The octopus shares a tank with some purple starfish, and the tank was designed so that even when the octopus attempts to hide, she will still be visible to visitors, Mohan said.

Four varieties of Moray eels will make their home in one of the 17 aquariums. Another aquarium features an array of unusual varieties of anemones from the cold waters around Vancouver, such as the powderpuff anemone, white spotted anemone and the strawberry anemone, along with a blood starfish and bat starfish.

Fans of Nemo will likely delight in another tank, which features anemonefish like the clownfish with anemones.

Mahan also thinks viewers will enjoy a tank that houses coral that emits a bright green light. The tank will be illuminated with blue lights and have a yellow filter so the green will glow, he said.

From the entrance and throughout the exhibit, the reef theme is carried out with a mural designed by Cuyahoga Falls artist Amy Mothersbaugh-Roos. Zoo officials said she spent more than a thousand hours working on the elaborate sea scene with the help of a crew of volunteers.

The exhibit concludes with a touch tank that will allow visitors to get close to small stingrays and horseshoe crabs. In addition, three interactive stations will help children learn about three levels of the ocean: the kelp forest, coral city and harbor, according to Autumn Russell, the zoo’s director of education.

Russell also said the zoo is pleased to have one of just a few displays loaned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium on sustainable seafood. The “Seafood Watch” interactive kiosk will help visitors learn about what are the best fish to eat to avoid destructive overfishing.

The Akron Zoo is located at 500 Edgewood Ave. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8.50 for seniors citizens, $7 for children ages 2-14 and free for those younger than 2. Parking is $2.

For more information, call 330-375-2550 or go to www.akronzoo.org.

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