Life Support Systems

Go With The Flow

Water. We have A LOT of it here. In total, the tanks at the Aquarium contain just over 5.2 million litres! Most of which is salt water.

So, with all of that water, how do we keep it clean?

The answer? A dedicated Life Support System team and lots of pumps, skimmer, sumps and filters.

The Life Support System at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is so efficient, collectively, we are able to pump 90,000 litres of water per minute. That’s about 132 million litres of water per day!

Just how exactly is this done? Let’s take a quick look…

Water is removed from both the top and bottom of the tanks using skimmers and sumps.

This is called parallel flow and it ensures all manner of delightful waste is removed. This water is then diverted to the fractionators and the sand filters.

The big yellow and blue vertical cylinders (pictured below, on upper level) are called foam fractionators and are used to sterilize the water and remove dissolved waste. If you look up to the transparent cylinder on top, you can see this removal in action. This frothing and foaming is waste being bubbled out of the water.

What is shown here is the filtration systems for only TWO tanks at the Aquarium – the Dangerous Lagoon and Ray Bay. We have 3 levels below this one that house all the other filtration units for every other tank at the Aquarium.

Another important thing to note is that we keep the larger exhibits on entirely separate systems, (but some of the smaller ones do share).

Water from, say, the Lagoon never mixes with water from, say, Ray Bay. Not in the tanks, not in transit, during filtration or recovery or storage, never. This ensures that if something goes wrong, biologically, mechanically, or chemically, there is no risk of cross contamination.

As water enters the foam fractionators, it is mixed with air bubbles and ozone gas. The ozone gas will kill viruses and bacteria while the air bubbles trap the dissolved waste using surface tension. If you visit the Aquarium, you may see the foam, just like sea foam, coming off the top of these units. Fresh water will then move the foam and waste to a recovery system.

Sand filters (colorful, horizontal filters on lower level, pictured below) are another important part of the filtration process.

Water that is skimmed from the tanks is diverted to either here or to the fractionators. In the sand filters, we’re able to filter out much of the larger, solid waste that builds up within the tanks: fish waste, leftover food… the really fun stuff. These large sand filters function much like backyard pool filters, but on a monstrous scale. Each has about a 3000 litre capacity! The water is strained as it flows through the different sand grain sizes located in these filters.

Water flow is horizontal which helps with efficiency.

Different sized grains of sand are found inside (from coarse to fine) and as water is pumped through it is strained. Unlike the fractionators which shed waste material, the sand filters will get clogged with debris by their very nature and so must be cleaned. When they drop in flow capacity by about 25% (usually every week) they’ll go on “back flow”. The filter is automatically shut off from the system and water is pumped in the reverse direction to free up that waste. This is then collected and piped to the lower levels where it is combined with the foam wash from the fractionators. That water will cycle from the recovery basin through a smaller version of this system, which is how we’re able to recover over 99% of the water we filter.

One fact that always surprises guests is that, in total, we are able to recycle about 99% of the water we filter.

We’ll actually lose more water each day from human sources (i.e. washrooms and the cafe) than we will from the actual tanks.

This is just a small taste of how we maintain the tanks at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Make sure to swim on by to learn more!

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!