Category

Aquatic Environment

Celebrating Coastal Cleanup Day

In September, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s Blue Team and over 50 members of the local community joined forces to celebrate Coastal Cleanup Day, cleaning Lake Ontario’s shoreline at the Humber Marshes.

Every year thousands of tons of garbage enter our oceans, harming wildlife, humans, and impacting the livelihood of those who work on the ocean.

Even though Toronto is located thousands of miles from the nearest ocean, the problem begins with us. Rivers, lakes, streams, storm drains and beaches are all connected, so litter at your shoreline can be transported far away from where it began.

Regardless of the origin, litter in the environment can have devastating consequences for wildlife. Animals mistake litter for food or become entangled in single-use plastic bags, rope and string. Litter can transport invasive species, or introduce dangerous toxins into an ecosystem. Plastic litter can break down into smaller pieces that are impossible to pick up and never truly disappear.

Over the course of the two-hour September cleanup, Aquarium staff and community members collected over 52 kg (113 lbs) of waste and recycling! The worst offenders? Cigarette butts, plastic bottle caps and small pieces of foam (less than 2.5 cm in diameter).

So, what do we do with that 52 kg of waste collected?

Waste collected during a Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada shoreline cleanup goes in one of three streams – trash, recycling and cigarette butts. The trash and recycling are collected by the City of Toronto, whereas the cigarette butts are sent to a recycling program called TerraCycle. Once collected in this program, the butts and packaging are separated by composition and melted into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled industrial products, such as plastic pallets. The ash and tobacco are separated out and composted in a specialized process.

Coastal Cleanup Day was established by the Ocean Conservancy, an organization that work to help protect the ocean from the challenges it faces every year. The important day encourages us to get out to our beaches and help to limit this problem by cleaning up the garbage that has washed up on shore, and that left by visitors every day.

Twice a year, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada participates in a shoreline cleanup to help clean Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Humber River. This area, known as the Humber Marshes, is one of the few remaining river mouth marshes in Toronto. As part of Toronto’s largest watershed, the extensive marshes provide an important breeding habitat for ducks, turtles and fish, and are a significant corridor for migratory song birds and monarch butterflies. More than 60 species of fish live in the river including such sport fish as trout, pike and salmon.

A BIG ‘tank’ you to everyone that participated! Interested in participating in our next Shoreline cleanup in spring 2018? Subscribe to the Aquarium newsletter (located at the bottom of our website, here) for more information.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at deepseadiary@ripleys.com for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

 

Life in Between the Tide

 

When thinking of extreme environments in the ocean you may picture the dead sea or hydrothermal vents.

It may be hard to imagine, but the shoreline created by tides is actually one of the most challenging places for an animal to live. In this week’s Deep Sea Diary post, we will delve into the amazing area of the ocean known as the intertidal zone, and discuss some of the aquatic animals that call this area home.

The intertidal zone is the area of the shore water reaches during high tides, but during low tide it is left exposed.

Canada is home to the largest tidal flux in the world – the east coast is home to the Bay of Fundy, which experiences tidal cycles with highs of over 16 meters (52 feet), about the height of a five-story building! These tidal cycles create a complex and dynamic environment with large fluctuations in many environmental factors. At high tide, the environmental conditions are relatively stable and constant as animals are covered by seawater. At low tide, however, the area becomes more of a terrestrial habitat and animals experience large fluctuations in temperature, salinity and oxygen level. Plus, during low tide, these species are exposed to predators and the threat of drying conditions!

Let’s explore some of the animals commonly found in the intertidal zone on our Canadian coasts, and how they survive in this extreme environment.

Limpets are small marine snails that inhabit the area known as the spray zone.

This area is mostly terrestrial and only becomes covered with seawater at very high tides. The spray zone, however, is frequently exposed to splashing waves and wind-blown spray. Limpets use a muscular foot to attach themselves to rocks so they don’t get knocked around and they have a strong shell to protect their body from the constant wave shock. They can even raise and lower their shell to help them control the temperature of their body. Limpets use their strong teeth to scrap algae off of rocks. This doesn’t sound very interesting until you learn that limpet teeth are the strongest natural material currently on record, six times stronger than spider silk!

In the high intertidal zone you will find an abundance of crustaceans.

Not the crustaceans you may commonly think of, like lobster and crab. Instead, barnacles (yes, they’re crustaceans too!) inhabit this area.  Larval barnacles get batted around the intertidal zone until they find a suitable place to call home. They glue themselves to that location and stay there forever, constructing a hard shell around their body. The shell not only protects them from predators, it also allows them to keep reserves of water to use during low tide. You may also see barnacles living on other animals such as whales and turtles, don’t be alarmed though, they are harmless and just filter feed on plankton in the water!

Sea urchins and sea stars are also animals common to the intertidal community, often inhabiting the mid intertidal zone.

Urchins and sea stars move using hundreds of small suckers, called tube feet. They have a complex system of water canals inside their body and they control the movement of their feet by squeezing water in and out of them. During low tides urchins, sea stars and sea cucumbers often become trapped in small pools of water and remain there until high tide. This is when they are vulnerable to terrestrial predators and it becomes a fight for survival! Urchins use sharp spines that protrude from their body to wound predators, some species also have venomous stinging spines they can use as an additional weapon. When attacked, sea stars will actually drop off their arm to escape and regrow it later. Sea cucumbers will take that strategy to another level and eviscerate (or “puke up”) their whole gut to distract and confuse predators!

Another resident often seen in these tide pools is the sculpin. These small fish are quite extraordinary! Tide pools often experience times of very low oxygen which would normally make survival quite hard. Sculpins however have adapted to extract oxygen directly from the air, using their skin to breathe! Their body also has no scales and instead they defend themselves using sharp spines on their head and gill covers. Many species of sculpin can also change the shade of their skin to camouflage with their surroundings and avoid predators.

This is just a small taste of some of the amazing inhabitants of the intertidal zone. You can find many more in the Canadian Waters gallery at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Swim on by to see these animals in action and learn even more about the ocean.

 

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Drop us a line in the comments below before August 31, 2017 for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A post and win 2 tickets to the Aquarium!