Cleaning One of the World’s Largest Aquariums
While S.E.A. Aquarium is temporarily closed to the public, life underwater carries on as our aquarists, vets, and vital members of both animal health and life support system teams continue to provide the best care and environment for our 100,000 marine residents representing over 1000 species.
One of the most common duties that aquarists undertake in their daily routine is perhaps the most intensive: cleaning!
1. Manually cleaning the animals’ homes
The very first task in an aquarist’s daily husbandry routine is to check on the physical state and behaviour of the animals, to ensure they are healthy. This is followed by food preparation and feeding, or cleaning and housekeeping of their habitats. Depending on the size and type of exhibits, larger exhibits like the Open Ocean Habitat (two aquarists diving for a combined total of five hours per day to perform husbandry tasks) and Shipwreck Habitat will involve a massive amount of cleaning to cover all grounds, while smaller exhibits require more experienced and flexible aquarists to clean all the nooks and crannies effectively.
While cleaning may seem mundane, many unexpected things can happen with live animals! Time to time, our aquarists uncover ‘treasures’ like egg cases of sharks, and even little babies – which are all good news. This keeps the job interesting as you never know what your day may be like.
2. Smaller ≠ easier to clean
Aquarists have to brush leftover food and dirt off the tiny crevices among corals and rocks, while moving within the small space and avoiding the animal inhabitants.
Cleaning within the habitats involves looking out for your own (and your buddy’s!) safety while maneuvering around rocks, corals, and even venomous animals such as sea urchins and stingrays. This gets even more challenging with the varied shapes and sizes of different habitats.
When we call our habitats small, we really mean small. Some habitats may just be about 2m in width and 1.2m in height. For example, our Shark Cave – a floor tank – has a height of less than 2 metres. As the Shark Cave allows visitors to view from the top, the only entry point for our aquarists is from the side and any husbandry tasks carried out in this space cannot be done while they are standing. Aquarists are exceptionally skillful as they brush leftover food and dirt off the tiny crevices among corals and rocks, while moving within the small space and avoiding the animal inhabitants.
While cleaning, aquarists have to carefully maneuver around rocks, corals, and even venomous animals such as sea urchins and stingrays.
The smaller habitats may not provide sufficient space for aquarists to bring in an air cylinder for air supply. They depend on surface supply air which is delivered through a tube. This allows aquarists to have more space to move around the habitats without damaging any of the rockwork, plants, and corals. Even though our tallest cylindrical habitat, Coral Garden, is around 6-metres tall, the extent and variety of rockwork, plants, and corals provide very limited space for our aquarist to move around. In this case, surface supply air is used by aquarists as they service this tank.
3. Freshwater vs saltwater exhibits
S.E.A. Aquarium has an interesting mix of freshwater and saltwater habitats, each catered to our unique aquatic residents. Each habitat requires water of specific pH values, salinity, and temperature; lighting types and amount (especially if it is supporting corals or plants); substrates, and more...
Good maintenance of the habitats is crucial for the health and survival of our animals, as well as to upkeep the aesthetics of the aquarium. Given that freshwater and saltwater habitats have environmental differences, cleaning and maintaining these habitats come with their respective techniques.
While navigating freshwater habitats, aquarists must be mindful not to accidentally pluck the freshwater plants out during cleaning. Wood surfaces present in these habitats are extremely fragile and our aquarists would have to exercise caution and utilise equipment like basters to carefully blow away or vacuum the debris from these surfaces. Additionally, tweezers or scissors is used to remove small algae pieces wedged in these delicate spaces.
A siphon valve is used to stir up the sand bed and extract the debris.
When it comes to the saltwater habitats, a key difference is the water density. We tend to float better on saltwater due to its higher density. Aquarists counter this challenge by strapping on additional weights to weigh themselves down in the larger habitats to carry out their cleaning tasks more effectively. Instead of soil, most saltwater habitats have gravel or coral chips as the floor substrate. Our aquarists will utilise siphon bells to stir up the debris hidden within this loose substrate and basters to blow out debris in hard-to-reach areas. Aquarists must also ensure that our precious live corals present in the saltwater habitats do not get injured during the cleaning process.
Of course, as with all aquariums (including your home ones), it requires a life support system and S.E.A. Aquarium is home to a massive life support system, but that is another topic that we’ll explore soon!