Category

Conservation

Keeping Our Oceans Happy & Healthy

As someone that works at an Aquarium, I often get the comment, “Well, you must not eat seafood.” This is usually followed by a chuckle. My response? “I love to eat seafood. BUT when I do, I make sure the seafood I am consuming is sustainable.”

Our world’s oceans are essential to life on earth.

Covering approximately 70% of the planet, our oceans maintain the earth as we know it by regulating the climate, supplying oxygen to the atmosphere and by maintaining the lives of the millions of organisms that make up the complex aquatic food web. Its essential functions go beyond the deep blue, as the ocean also works to support life on dry land. This includes providing us humans with an important protein source – fish!

However, our oceans are in danger.

One of the biggest threats that our oceans face today is overfishing.

In the past 50 years, global consumption of seafood has nearly doubled. Improvements in technology have allowed us to remove fish at alarmingly fast rates, with much less effort. Today, roughly 90% of the world’s fish stocks are fully fished or overfished.

The amount of seafood we consume is not the only issue. To add to the issue, what we remove and how we remove these species from the water are also an issue. Certain fishing and farming practices can have negative impacts on critical marine or aquatic habitats. An estimated 40% of what is caught in commercial fisheries is unintended catch, or bycatch, and is often tossed back overboard. Bycatch species can range from small organisms to those that are much larger, from sharks, to rays, and even turtles.

Unfortunately, the majority of these animals do not always survive, even if they are returned to the water. It is important to understand how your seafood has been harvested as some fishing gear types can increase the likelihood and amount of bycatch.

 

But despite these issues, you CAN help to make a difference!

One way to do so is, like myself, opting to eat only sustainable seafood.

Sustainable seafood can be defined as species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.

I’ll admit, ensuring you are making a healthy and sustainable choice for our oceans when it comes to buying seafood can be difficult. Without the proper information about where your food is coming from, how can you know for sure that you are purchasing sustainable seafood? Luckily, there are resources to help you make those important decisions.

Next time you are at a restaurant or grocery store, look for the Ocean Wise symbol on seafood items.

The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is your assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice, ensuring the health of our oceans for generations to come.

Interested in learning more about sustainable seafood, and tasting what our oceans and lakes have to offer? Check out Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown. Taste delectable original chowders, local craft beer as top Ocean Wise chefs compete head-to-head for the title of 2017 Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Champion, all in support of sustainable seafood.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Recap: International Sawfish Day

On Tuesday, October 17, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada joined several aquariums across North Americain celebrating the first annual International Sawfish Day!

Did you know? There are only five species of sawfish in the world – Dwarf, Knifetooth, Smalltooth, Largetooth and Green sawfish. The largest being the smalltooth sawfish, which can grow up to 25 feet!

One of the ways that Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada celebrated these incredible species with TWO Facebook LIVE events! If you didn’t get the chance to “tuna” in on Tuesday, check them out below.

First up, our Marketing Coordinator Sarah joined our Senior Aquarist Ka in the Dangerous Lagoon Tunnel to discuss all things sawfish. During their chat, they were even joined by a very special guest – our male green sawfish! The male and female green sawfish that call Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada home can often be seen lying on the tunnel, giving guests the perfect view.

 

During the second Facebook LIVE, Sarah joined one of our Lead Educators, Danielle, behind the scenes to give viewers a look at how we feed the animals in the Dangerous Lagoon, including the two resident sawfish.

Danielle answered some great questions – including the purpose of the sawfish’s rostum, how they are able to eat and even what they are fed here at the Aquarium.

 

One important topic that both Kat and Danielle discussed was the many threats that face these animals, and how we can help.

The sawfish gets their name from their long rostrum, or “saw”. Due to this unique morphology, combined with slow growth, all five species of sawfish are listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Their rostrum often causes entanglement in fishing nets and other marine debris and can often lead to targeted trophy hunting. They are also continuously hunted for their meat, liver oil and fins for the shark fin trade. And, as a species commonly found in shallow coastal waters, their habitat is at risk due to development.

Even though we may be located thousands of miles from the nearest sawfish habitat, there are many ways that we can help. Most importantly, it starts with education and creating awareness. By participating in activities such as International Sawfish Day, we can create awareness of these animals and their importance in the ocean and threats they face.  We hope that you enjoying “tuna”ing in to our Facebook LIVE events, and they you will share them with your friends so that they too can build a connection with these magnificent ocean creatures.

 

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Celebrating the Sawfish

Next Tuesday, October 17th is the first annual International Sawfish Day!

There are only five species of sawfish in the world – Dwarf, Knifetooth, Smalltooth, Largetooth and Green sawfish. The largest being the smalltooth sawfish, which can grow up to 25 feet!

Sawfish are considered the most threatened group of Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) in the world. Here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we have two resident green sawfish, who live in the Dangerous Lagoon exhibit.

Green sawfish are more closely related to stingrays than sharks. They are a modified ray with a shark-like body, and can grow over 15 feet in length! Commonly mistaken for swordfish, sawfish are elasmobranchs meaning their skeleton is made of cartilage (like our ears and nose), and not bone. Our female green sawfish is easily our largest animal at the Aquarium, weighing in at over 400 pounds over 14 feet long from end to end! (Don’t know which one is female, and which one is male? When viewing the sawfish from within the Dangerous Lagoon tunnel, look for the presence of claspers. These male reproductive organs are modifications of the pelvic fins and are located on the inner margin of the pelvic fins.)

The rostrum, or “saw,” is what makes these animals so unique!

A sawfish’s rostrum is long and narrow, edged with teeth and can comprise up to 30% of their length! Depending on the species, the rostum is comprised on 16-37 pairs of teeth on either side. Once lost, these teeth will never grow back.Contrary to popular belief, the saw is not used to saw into other animals. An efficient weapon covered in electroreceptors, called ampullae of Lorenzini, the rostrum allows sawfish to detect their prey in the substrate, before taking lateral swipes to stun or kill.

With all five species listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN, the first annual International Sawfish Day couldn’t have come at a better time!

Sawfish are a vulnerable species due to their unique morphology and slow growth. Their rostrum often causes entanglement in fishing nets and other marine debris and can often lead to targeted trophy hunting. They are also continuously hunted for their meat, liver oil and fins for the shark fin trade. And, as a species commonly found in shallow coastal waters, their habitat is at risk due to development.

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But, you can help!

One way to do so is by joining Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada on Facebook! On October 17, we will be celebrating International Sawfish Day with TWO Facebook LIVE events – 8:45am & 1:00pm (topics listed below).

8:45am – “All About Sawfish” Facebook LIVE with our Senior Aquarist Kat!

1:00pm – “Sawfish Feed” Facebook LIVE with our Lead Educator Danielle!

We hope to ‘sea’ you there!

 

Is there something that you’ve always wanted to know about sawfish? Leave your sawfish questions below (before Monday, October 16) for your chance to WIN a sawfish stuffed animal, two general admission tickets and a keychain, AND have them answered during our Facebook LIVE on International Sawfish Day!

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!

 

What is AZA?

Conserve. Educate. Inspire.

At Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, our mission is to provide a world class experience that will foster education, conservation and research, while providing fun and entertainment for all ages.

One way that we do this is by maintaining accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

AZA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. AZA has been the primary accrediting body for zoos and aquariums for over 40 years, and represents more than 230 institutions in the United States, Canada and internationally.

These accredited institutions meet the highest standards in animal care and provide a fun, safe, and educational family experience. Collectively drawing more than 180 million visitors every year and dedicating millions of dollars to support scientific research, conservation and education programs, accredited zoos and aquariums play an important role in connecting their visitors to the natural world.

Simply put, AZA accreditation is considered to be the “best” accreditation a zoo or aquarium can hold, due to the incredibly high standards and stringent requirements.

In September 2015, less than two years after opening, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada was granted accreditation by AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission.

To achieve accreditation, the Aquarium underwent a thorough review to ensure it has and will continue to meet rising standards, which include animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. In addition to a very lengthy written application, the Aquarium also took part in an intense multiple-day on-site inspection, which involved outside leaders in the zoo and aquarium industry observing all aspects of the institution’s operation. Over the course of three days, the inspectors observed the Aquarium’s animal care, safety for visitors, staff and animals, educational programs, conservation efforts, veterinary programs, financial stability, risk management, visitor services, and more.  The accreditation process then concluded with an in-person hearing in front of the Accreditation Commission, at which time accreditation was presented.

Accreditation doesn’t stop there. AZA member institutions are required to repeat the entire accreditation process every five years to ensure that they are upholding the continuously evolving standards, incorporating best modern zoological practices in animal welfare and management, and embracing modern AZA philosophies.

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So what does this mean for Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada?

Accreditation certifies that Ripley’s meets all mandatory and professional standards for animal welfare, management, veterinary care, behavioural enrichment, nutrition, staff training and beyond. This recognition ensure that the animals you visit receive excellent care every day.

“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredits only those zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards and are proven leaders in the care and conservation of wildlife as well as education,” said former AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “The community can take great pride in knowing that Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of conservationists.”

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and their member institutions are leaders in saving species, and your link to helping animals all over the world. So, the next time you visit a zoo or aquarium look for the AZA accreditation logo as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things.

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is extremely proud to hold this accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums! You can find Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s accreditation plaque proudly displayed at Guest Services. Visit us today to experience one of our dive shows and aquarist talks, and to learn more about our conservation programs and animal welfare practices.

 

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 for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Cleaning Lake Ontario’s Shoreline

ripley's aquarium shoreline cleanup

With water levels in Lake Ontario reaching a record high this spring, a large amount of debris has been washed onto our shoreline, polluting Toronto’s beautiful beaches and harming the wildlife that calls this city home.

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.

But, we can help! Aside from limiting our single-use plastics and disposing of waste properly, participating in a cleanup is the perfect way to make our shorelines beautiful once again.

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.

Over the course of the two-hour cleanup, 62 Aquarium staff and community volunteers collected over 86 kg (190 lbs.) of waste and recycling, including several large pieces of wood and a tire (rim included).

The worst offenders? Small pieces of foam and plastic, called micro-plastic.

Because of their tiny size, micro-plastics avoid filtration from city water systems and end up being flushed directly into our natural waterways.

BUT micro-plastics are not the only trash that end up on our shores. In 2016, these were the most collected items across Canada:

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a national conservation initiative that provides Canadians the opportunity to take action in their communities wherever water meets land, one bit of trash at a time. Since inception in 1994, there have been 19,400 cleanups that have collected more than 1.2 million kg (2.64 million lbs.) of trash across Canada’s shorelines. Today, the Shoreline Cleanup is recognized as one of the largest direct action conservation programs in Canada.

A BIG ‘tank’ you to everyone that participated! Stay tuned for our next cleanup in the fall.

 

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!

 

 

Plastic Pollution: The Silent Killer

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Water is a key ingredient in our survival, however, we are currently creating a recipe for disaster.

Did you know Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada sits right on the shores of the 14th largest lake in the world and one of the five Great Lakes? Lake Ontario is home to 1 in 4 Canadians and provides drinking water to over 9 million people. But, did you also know that the amount of plastic pollution entering Lake Ontario last year equates to enough plastic bottles to fill 28 Olympic-sized swimming pools(1)?!

Most of the pollution that enters our waterways is a result of domestic use – specifically single use disposables, such as straws, cups, lids, take-out containers and plastic cutlery. From all sources, a whopping 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters our Great Lakes every year(1).

The real kicker is that plastic does not ever biodegrade in our environment. Instead, it continues to slowly break down into smaller pieces called microplastics, (any piece of plastic smaller than 5 millimetres). Microplastics essentially consist of all forms of plastic – synthetic fibers, fragments of plastic, foam bits and microbeads.

small-plastic-pieces-on-penny

Because of their tiny size, microplastics avoid filtration from city water systems and end up being flushed directly into our natural waterways.

This is where wildlife is exposed to the pollution which results in accidental ingestion – commonly mistaken as prey.

Making ingestion worse, plastic is comprised of crude oil and carbon-containing compounds referred to as polymers and monomers. The chemical makeup allows it to absorb chemicals found in the natural environment. Then, after it is unknowingly consumed by wildlife, the chemicals leach into the tissue of animals.

plastic-pollution-bird

While plastic itself is classified as non-hazardous, the transfer of chemicals from plastic to animal tissue and then up the food chain can have disastrous effects.

And don’t think humans are exempt from the issue! With the consumption of seafood, we are at risk of ingesting those toxic chemicals as well.

Realizing the prevalence of microbeads and the detrimental effects of microplastics on the environment, the Government of Ontario has recently taken legislative action! Following common phase-out timelines, the use of microbeads in the production of personal care products such as toothpaste, face scrubs and cosmetics will be banned by December 2017(2).

But, while these are excellent steps in the right direction, they are not the entire solution. There are many other things you can do to ‘kelp’ us protect our waterways and the animals that swim in it. For example,

  • Buy a reusable water bottle
  • #BanTheBead and say no to microbeads before legislation
  • Say NO to single use plastics
  • The 3Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle

Together, we can all make a difference and help keep Lake Ontario, and the many other waterways on this planet we call home, clean!

 

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!

 

Sources:
  1. Hoffman, M.J. and E. Hittinger. (2017). Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Marine Pollution Bulletin 115(1-2):273-281. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezpxy.fanshawec.ca/science/article/pii/S0025326X1630981X
  2. Ontario. (2016). Microplastics and microbeads. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/microplastics-and-microbeads
  3. Penny photo – http://oceans.mit.edu/news/featured-stories/269000-tons-plastic-ocean-now-dr-marcus-eriksen
  4. Bird photo – http://www.plasticgarbageproject.org/en/plastic-garbage/problems/effects-on-the-animal-world/

Our Oceans, Our Future

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Celebrate World Ocean’s Day 2017 with Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada!

Working at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, I always forget how lucky I am to be able to immerse myself in the marine world.

Every day I get to hang out with stingrays, watch our giant pacific octopus paint and be mesmerized by a wall of jellyfish. But for most people living in the city, especially one as big and sprawling as Toronto, this underwater environment is considered a foreign place.

Being so far removed from our oceans, I shouldn’t be as surprised when a visiting student questioned why we should care about them and the animals that live there.

I wish I could say my response convinced that student to take care of our oceans. But alas, I was so taken aback when I responded to this question, I have no doubt my answer ended up being a rushed, hodge-podge of reasons.ripleys-aquarium-canada-rainbow-reef

So, to redeem myself and to help anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation, here is what I should have said to that student…

“Well friend, in many ways, our oceans can be considered the heart of our planet. They are responsible for circulating nutrients and transferring heat around our Earth. Our oceans drive our climate and weather systems allowing me to ski in the winter and sit on a beach in the summer. Oh ya! It also provides me with HALF THE OXYGEN I need to breathe. (Pause for effect.) Our oceans supply not only non-living resources, but also a wealth of living resources. The big blue is teeming with life, most of which is consumed by the human population (that’s us!). Here in Canada, we are fortunate to be connected to not one, but THREE oceans! With the world’s longest shoreline, it our responsibility to make sure Canada plays its part to protect one of the world’s most valuable resources.”

I know this student wasn’t the first to question the significance of our oceans, and may have even been voicing what many of our guests are thinking. But in celebrating World Ocean’s Day today, June 8, this incidence seems to replay in my mind. It is easy to take for granted something so fundamental to our life that even I had trouble concisely explaining the importance of our oceans.

Just like the oceans and their significance can be overwhelming to explain, so can the task of helping to keep our oceans healthy. If you don’t know what you can do to help, check out this list of ideas to help improve our lakes and oceans and celebrate World Ocean’s Day 2017.

how-to-keep-oceans-trash-free

Looking for a way to celebrate World Ocean’s Day? Join Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada as we clean up the Humber Marshes on June 11! For more information and to register, visit our website.

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!