Hidden Gem: Live Mangrove Exhibit

The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank is an Aquarium favorite. When you walk into the Aquarium's West Wing, it's easy to bee-line right to this beautiful, interactive exhibit filled with gregarious cownose rays and fascinating sharks. But you'd be missing a gem of a tank at the entrance to the exhibit. So stop for second, get quiet and belly up to the live mangrove display on your right.

Here's a quick peek at the tank—Vine-video-style. (If you have the Vine app, look for us @NEAQ!)

This tank is bursting with life—from speedy fish, to colorful anemones to hermit crabs to the upside-down jellies to live plants! Let's get to know a couple of the stars of this tank so you can impress your fellow visitors with your knowledge.

An upside-down jelly

First up, the upside-down jelly, (Cassiopea xamachana). These jellies lie on the sandy bottom with their four branching tentacles left to sway in the water. The bluish fringe contains symbiotic zooxanthallae, which are tiny plants that make food for the jelly. Those tentacles also filter nutrients and plankton out of the water. Scientists studying mangrove ponds in Belize know these tentacles also pack a bit of a sting, too.

By Aquaimages [CC-BY-SA-2.5] via Wikimedia Commons

Don't forget the copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus). You may have noticed this guy zoom past the camera during the jelly clip. These fast, flat fish have a long snout that helps them eat small crustaceans, worms and coral polyps. It is an asset to this exhibit, too, because it likes to snack on parasites that might hitch a ride into the exhibit!

A speedy fusilier

The double-lined fusilier (Pterocaesio digramma) are easy to spot with two bright yellow stripes against their sleek bluish-silver bodies. While they are related to snapper, they are well adapted to eating smaller prey such as crustaceans that live in the silty layer on the bottom of a mangrove stand.

Photo: Nick Hobgood [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Tube anemones look quite graceful dotting the tank. Take a close look and you'll notice two distinct rings of tentacles and a tube-like body. The outer ring of tentacles is for defense and capturing prey. The inner ring is used to manipulate their food. If disturbed, they can completely retract into their tube! These anemones are different from other anemones, like the green anemones, and attach to the substrate by secreting a hard mucus tube.

via Wikimedia Commons

And what would a mangrove exhibit be without mangrove plants! We have some young plants that have started to put down roots, along with some sculptural mangrove roots. Mangroves are incredibly important marine habitats. They provide a cozy nursery for sharks and other fish to grow up, they are essential for healthy coral reefs, they protect coasts from storm damage and they are a carbon sink! But there has been a 17 percent decline in mangrove forests since 1980, according to the IUCN.

With all the animals that call this tiny tank home, just imagine all the marine animals in the wild that are threatened by the loss of mangrove habitats. The best way to save mangroves is to prevent them from being destroyed in the first place. Conservation organizations around the world are working to protect mangrove forests from deforestation and pollution.

-Dave Allen contributed information for this entry

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