Tennessee Aquarium officials announced this morning the opening of a 14,000-square-foot riverfront facility on the south campus of Baylor School.

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute seeks to give the “Southeast’s rich-but imperiled-aquatic biodiversity . a much-needed shot in the arm.” The facility is the only independent freshwater science center in the Southeast. 

According to a TNACI news release, the facility will serve as the headquarters for a newly expanded staff of conservation scientists. The building-which features an “environmentally conscious design”-will provide access to cutting-edge equipment and space for staff to “centralize and streamline ongoing projects, initiate critical new research and host educational programs.”

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s new riverfront facility. (Photo: Contributed)

Since 1996, researchers have pursued projects involving the propagation of lake sturgeon and southern Appalachian brook trout. Those programs-which were previously operated outside Chattanooga-will be housed in the new building.

“We’re surrounded by amazing animal communities in our rivers and streams that are unparalleled for diversity and beauty,” Anna George, director of TNACI, said in a prepared statement. “It’s why our region is so exciting to the scientific community and why we are committed to protecting our aquatic treasures so they can continue to be enjoyed by all.”

The ongoing projects and conservation programs associated with the new building are numerous: an ongoing population analysis and genetic study of laurel dace, an endangered fish whose habitat is restricted to a small system of waterways on Walden Ridge; a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant to establish population genetics of the Cumberland darter, found in just a few tributaries of the Upper Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky; a three-year project to determine the conservation status of alligator snapping turtles in Tennessee; and a new on-site program utilizing an artificial stream to gauge the impact of climate change on salamanders.

While the focus of the facility will be scientific research, educational outreach is also an important component. The first floor will offer a large teaching lab that will target high school and college students pursuing degrees in various scientific fields. Visiting experts will also have access to the building. 

From the release:

TNACI’s facility sits at the heart of a region whose aquatic diversity is unrivaled in the temperate world. More than 1,400 aquatic species reside in waterways within a 500-mile radius of Chattanooga, including about three-quarters (73.1 percent) of all native fish species in the United States. More than 90 percent of all American mussels and crayfish species live within that same area, as do 80 percent of North America’s salamander species and half of its turtle species.

“We have a special ability to work across traditional borders on collaborative projects that bring people together to protect the exceptional aquatic life of the southeastern United States,” George said. “We can then share our scientific work with the aquarium’s large and diverse audience to inspire others to join us in celebrating and protecting the animals living in the rivers and streams of our backyard.”

More information on the new TNACI facility can be found here. Click here to read a previous article on the facility. 

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