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Taking a dip into aquatic systems

While our Zoo Atlanta guests journey through Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience, they may notice that many of our habitats hold substantial amounts of water. Whether it be for an aquatic turtle, snake, lizard, crocodile, frog, salamander or fish, we have an indoor or outdoor environment suitable to accommodate our aquatic friends. You can imagine that with all this H2O, we spend a fair bit of time taking care of aquatic systems. So, for today’s Keeper Stories blog, we thought it would be great to jump into the shallow end and teach you all a few basics when it comes to how we manage water quality at Zoo Atlanta.

Filtration is the key. Did you know that a filter on an aquatic system can play multiple roles to properly “clean” the water that passes through it? Mechanical, Biological, and Chemical processes are the big three we refer to when speaking about our filters’ specialized skills. Most individuals think of filters as removing waste with sponges, pads and screens. This is what we call mechanical filtration. It removes floating debris often visible to the naked eye. But then what is Biological filtration? We rely on an established aquatic system’s natural defensive mechanism of bacteria and small micro-organisms that help to keep the habitat’s ecosystem balanced. Have you ever walked in a stream or river and stepped on a “slimy” rock? That rock is covered with colonies of bacteria and micro-organisms that are working hard to keep that stream clean. Chemical filtration is the last of the three processes. This is when we add chemicals that help to improve the water’s quality. One example is using activated carbon that will help absorb organic pollutants from the water. We like when our filtration is working like a “well-oiled machine” because then our aquatic system flourishes with minimal maintenance, but you might wonder, how do we know our water is healthy?

The Herpetology Team spends time carefully running tests on all our large aquatic habitats. This is what we often refer to as water quality testing. We can test for specific components in our water that are relevant to the health and well-being of the animals we care for. Not all animals require the same water ingredients, and some may need more specific parameters more than others. At this point in this blog you or I aren’t wearing the appropriate scuba gear, so I won’t descend deeper into the intricacies of water chemistry because we would be here awhile, and I would reveal the true nerd I am. So, if you could let your imagination swim wild for a moment and think of us measuring and mixing potions that eventually reveal the water’s clean bill of health or a report of needing some improvement, that would be wonderful! We use specific parameters that we compare our measurements against to ensure proper health of the aquarium and its inhabitants.

But what if it the water quality needs some improving? I am glad you asked! Then we resort back to the first portion of this blog and look over our filtration. Maybe the aquatic system needs a small water change? It all comes back to cleaning and maintaining all the working components to provide a quality of water that meets the needs of the animals who live in it. Thanks for taking a dip with me; this is where you can take a breath. We look forward to seeing you the next time you visit us here in the Herpetology Department at Zoo Atlanta.
Trent Niesen
Lead Keeper, Herpetology

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