Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 17

Creature Feature

Fishing for Solutions
The expanded Tennessee Aquarium
Conservation Institute aims to protect
the region's water-dwelling critters on a
grand and forward-looking scale.
by Nancy Henderson
Bernie Kuhajda: "We pretty much get clean air and
clean water for free," thanks to trees and rivers.

Bernie Kuhajda points to a spectacular view of the winding river just outside the new Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) on the outskirts of downtown Chattanooga. "I can look out the window and get
inspired," says the aquatic conservation biologist and
TNACI science program manager, "and remind myself
why I'm doing what I'm doing."
The lesser-known research arm of the Tennessee
Aquarium and the region's only independent freshwater science center, TNACI debuted in 1996 to preserve
Southeastern aquatic habitats and the animals that live
in them. The area's ecological diversity, which some
conservationists liken to an "underwater rainforest," is
unrivaled worldwide. About three-quarters of all native
U.S. fish, more than 90 percent of American mussels
and crayfish, 80 percent of North America's salamander
species, and half of its turtle species live here. But with
fewer protected lands than in western states, many critters are battling habitat destruction and some are facing
extinction.
For years, TNACI scientists conducted their studies
in a former warehouse where they bred imperiled lake
sturgeon and Southern Appalachian brook trout, and
conducted DNA testing on a card table in the corner of
the building. Lab analyses were done several miles away
at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, posing
more logistical problems.
In October, the new 14,000-square-foot, sustainably
designed TNACI facility opened on a hidden but sprawling tract of land next to a private school. Scientists now
have access to dedicated genetics and morphology labs
where they "unzip" DNA from, for example, tiny pieces
of fish fin or toenail fragments from turtles, and figure
out how to restore dwindling populations. In the spacious education lab, students from surrounding states

can benefit from hands-on lessons, get one-on-one
mentorships, or watch Kuhajda release young fish 100
miles away via live-streaming videos. And the propagation room features, among other things, four manmade streams where lake sturgeon grow. The researchers
can manipulate the current speed, water depth and temperature to study the effects of climate change.
"We can have two systems running at the temperatures that we have now, and two systems running at
temperatures we expect to see in 50 years," Kuhajda
says, "and see if fishes and salamanders eat differently
or compete with each other differently."
Outside, rainwater is channeled from the roof into a
6,000-gallon cistern that purifies the water, which then
travels around the building into a wetland area before
it reaches the river or is recycled for use inside. TNACI
officials are currently seeking Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification from
the U.S. Green Building Council.
Kuhajda admits that because freshwater creatures
aren't warm and fuzzy, the public doesn't always grasp
their importance.
"Even with all the problems in the world with pollution, we pretty much get clean air and clean water for
free," he says. "And who cleans that up? It's our ecosystems-the trees and the rivers. And each species is a
brick in that foundation. As you lose species, you pull
out a few bricks. There's gonna be a point where you
pull out that last brick and the whole foundation's gonna collapse, and that ecosystem isn't going to clean our
water for us. These species that are in trouble right now
are the canaries in the coalmine. And with us being the
intelligent critters on this planet, it's our moral obligation to take care of the other species that we share the
planet with." 
March/April 2017 17



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017

Features
Festival Guide 2017
Waterfalls of North Carolina: A Photo Essay
Wytheville Loves Edith
Barry Glick, Garden Guy
Vanishing Landmarks of North Georgia
Cheese!
Departments
From the Editor
Contributors
Mill Creek Stories
Worth a Click
Creature Feature
The Good Walk
Mountain Report
Country Roads
Singing in the Garden
Festivals & Events
Guest Column
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 5
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - From the Editor
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Contributors
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 8
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 9
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Mill Creek Stories
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 11
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 12
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 13
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 14
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 15
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Worth a Click
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - The Good Walk
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 19
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Mountain Report
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 21
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Country Roads
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 23
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 24
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 25
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Festival Guide 2017
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 27
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 31
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 32
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 33
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 34
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 35
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 36
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 37
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Waterfalls of North Carolina: A Photo Essay
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 39
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 40
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 41
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 42
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 43
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 44
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Wytheville Loves Edith
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 46
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 47
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Barry Glick, Garden Guy
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 49
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 50
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 51
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Vanishing Landmarks of North Georgia
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 53
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 54
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 55
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Cheese!
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 57
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Singing in the Garden
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 59
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 60
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 61
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Festivals & Events
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 63
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 64
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - 65
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Guest Column
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2017 - Cover4
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