Guest Blog kindly presented by Rory McAvinney & Noel Langan
Galway Atlantaquaria is over 20 years in business, opening in 1999. Over those 20 years, animal welfare has been a key part of running this beautiful aquarium and has helped us house many marine and freshwater species. From rehabilitating Loggerhead Turtles to housing European Bass that are as old as the aquarium. Without continuously improving our welfare management within the aquarium this would not have been possible.
Animal welfare is how well an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. This means we must think about animal welfare when we are designing a new exhibit and tailoring it to the needs of the animal we are going to house. An example is our Octopus tank, we provide rocks, seaweeds, dark areas, and bright areas to give them a variety of options in the exhibit. The only downside is that visitors often think the tank is empty when the octopus is so well hidden!
Another part of animal welfare that I feel we do well, is keeping animals in tanks that mimic their natural environment. For example, ensuring that our Rays have soft sand to bury themselves just like they would in the wild or our Conger Eels having huge pipes embedded into stand-alone walls as to mimic where they hide in the wild, such as man made stone fishing piers that we are accustomed to in the west of Ireland. These are just some of the examples, but each tank has been designed with this in mind.
This is also known as behavioural enrichment and provides the animals with appropriate challenges and feeding stimulation. It’s something that hasn’t been around for all that long, but we have become very conscious of this form of animal welfare over the last few years.
Very few enrichment ideas will work straight away and sometimes they take weeks and months to perfect or maybe won’t work at all. Lots of these ideas come from researching what other aquariums are doing or seeing an enrichment action in process during a visit to one of our BIAZA or EAZA colleagues.
Long Enrichment Video
An example of one of our most successful enrichment ideas came from attending a BIAZA National Aquarium Conference. We got chatting with one of the vendors at the event called Vitalis®, who make a wide range of fish foods for marine and freshwater fish. One of their products is called “Marine Grazer”, a compacted ring of algae. We use this to feed our Grey Mullet. The beauty of this product is that the fish must use their rough lips to break down the algae ring, which can take them hours to finish. This is a perfect example of feeding stimulation and mimics the feeding habits of Mullet in the wild.
Short video of Bull Huss (Scliorhinus stellaris) with enrichment toy
One of our latest enrichment ideas came from Noel, who is one of the aquarists on our team. He wanted to provide the Rays and Sharks in our ray pool with some feeding stimuli. How this was achieved, was by buying several dog toys in a local pet shop.
The idea was to get a toy that was big enough that none of the animals could swallow but also tough enough to withstand lots of biting and feeding behaviour. The toy selected was called a Kong® dog toy, designed for large dog breeds. This hollow cone-shaped toy is made of very strong rubber and is designed to let dogs chew without damaging their teeth or the toy.
The next step was trying to figure out how we get the Sharks and Rays to interact with it. The first trial was promising, and Noel chose to fill the hollow toy with Sprat. This worked, but he felt we could entice a better reaction if we made some changes. The food of choice was changed to Squid with a large chunk wedged into the toy, this made the Sharks and Rays interact and move and chew at the toy and kept them stimulated for at least 30 minutes. He decided he would try to change it up a little more, so squid was added again but this time small and large chunks were stuffed into the toy. This yielded the best result yet.
As the Sharks and Rays moved the toy around the tank, pieces of food would drop out and drop beside other Rays and Sharks, and in turn, created even more movement and activity.
Both enrichments mentioned are being carried out numerous times a week along with several other methodologies. Our team is always busy trying out and testing new ideas and methods to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare for all the animals in our care.
We hope you have enjoyed today's blog on animal welfare in the aquarium, don’t forget to join us for more interesting aquariums topics soon.
Keep following our blog and we look forward to seeing you at Galway Atlantaquaria soon!
Reflection - Clean Coasts Beach Cleans
We are so proud of our Clean Coasts volunteers and would like to recognise the work of all Volunteers from 2022 until 2009. Its a stunning reflection the work in the fight against marine litter.
We would also like to thank Mr. Liam Twomey Director of Galway Atlantaquaria for his continued support for the beach cleaning community programme.
Special thanks to the team at Clean Coasts and Galway City Council for your continued support and guidance.
If you have any stories of the people in the images, please email: email@example.com
Saltwater in the Blood: Surfing, Natural Cycles and the Sea's Power to Heal
Guest Blog kindly presented by Petra Kerkhove
Saltwater in the Blood
When this book was mentioned to me, I was unaware there was a surfing scene in Ireland. I am not someone who ventures into the sea often, and in all fairness, I have difficulty dipping my toes in the sea even on the hottest of days. The water feels always cold to me. But the sea is right outside the door, the air briny, especially at high tide, and I am fascinated by this largely unexplored ecosystem. I was intrigued by the book, but afraid that I might not be able to relate to Easkey and her experience of the sea, seeing she is spending so much time in, on, and around water.
How wrong was I…
Growing up in Donegal, the sea has always played a big role in her life, and coming from a family of surfers, it was only natural she was drawn to it. Her grandmother was a hotel owner in Rossnowlagh who brought, in the 1960s, surfboards back from California for her hotel guests to use. However, her sons started using the boards instead. And that is how her family’s love with surfing started.
Easkey was taught surfing when she was 4 years old. She eventually started competing all over the world and won several awards, being now one of the most influential female surfers in the world. She also uses her expertise to explore ways to educate and make a difference where it matters most. She introduced surfing to women in Iran in 2013 and enabled the women there to create a bond with the sea. She went to Papua New Guinea and helped promoting gender equality in surfing. She is an ambassador for Finisterre, and amongst other projects, she helps on the Seasuit project, designing comfortable wetsuits that cover the full body. This a great option for women who for religious or other reasons are not be able to wear traditional wetsuits.
The book has 6 main chapters which are divided in several smaller sub-chapters, and in the introduction to the book the overarching theme of the book quickly becomes clear:
The sea connects us all.
In the first chapter, through concise paragraphs which almost read like separate anecdotes, Easkey introduces us to her life: where she grew up, what her connection with the sea is, and you get a good sense that the sea isn’t ‘just’ some water to her. It is in her, it is her.
She mentions several childhood memories. She tells of her time spent in the rockpools, catching big waves, submerging herself in secluded pools, but all have one thing in common: they bring her back to the important aspects of her life, how to get back in touch with herself and her place in the world.
In further chapters, she describes her travels to Iran, and Papua New Guinea, and about returning back home after being on the road for so long. She mentions all the wonderful people she meets and who have a major influence in her life. She also describes how important her art, her painting, is to her.
In later chapters she talks about the state of the sea: how we have lost the connection, and how this is leading to a disregard and deterioration of the ocean’s health due to pollution.
In the last chapter called ‘Home’, she describes what home means to her, and it brings us essentially back to where the book started. Home is the sea.
It is so easy to fall in love with this book.
As someone not so apt at expressing herself on paper, I marvel at how much of a connection Easkey makes with her audience.
She addresses important issues and gives us sobering facts on the state of the ocean. She highlights the important role it plays in providing oxygen to the planet, and how much damage is being done by pollution. It is easy to pick out the negative undertone in these chapters, yet I feel that the book in essence is uplifting and positive. Regardless of the big picture, what we can do to make a difference to ourselves, and the planet, is to interact, acknowledge and educate ourselves about the sea. We need to play, get in touch, be in awe. It will benefit us, and in return, it will benefit the planet. Or as Easkey says it best herself:
“I felt it was time to create a new connection between my body, brain and heart, one that embraced the entanglement of body, mind and nature, recognizing the flows between and through my body-environment; to pay more attention to the mirroring of my outer and inner worlds, to my body’s response to the natural, living world and its response to me.”
This book is a must-read for everyone. Not just people living next to the sea, or surfers, or environmentalists. It is a beautifully written, deeply personal book, yet universally relatable.
Suppose I will gear myself up for a dip at Blackrock after all.
 All illustrations ©Easkey Britton
 Finisterre designs functional and sustainable apparel for sea lovers
 Saltwater in the Blood, p122
Our final Blog on the Rockpools, but not the end of the BLOGS
"Every Crab needs to molt and grow, so this blog will evolve too"
We are sad to end the blog on Rockpool Life, we really enjoyed the presentation of this wonderful world of discovery, but as we covered the main goals of the blog, it was only right to finish and reflect at this time.
In the blog we covered topics like:
We are so lucky to have this resource across all our coastlines, and we hope we have inspired you to Explore Your Shore and enjoy the outdoors.
To celebrate the end of this blog we are hosting a rockpool and beach clean this Saturday 19th Feb at 12.30 on Grattan beach, Salthill.
UPDATE!! As this BLOG was scheduled we did not know about the storms, so we will have to reschedule this event, we will make a final decision tomorrow.
We look forward to seeing you all on the shore #KeepDiscovering
Over the last few weeks, we explored the rockpools along the Wild Atlantic Way and we encountered some of their most typical residents, like the sea anemone, the limpet, the hermit crab, and even the seaweed. In our journey, we have had the opportunity to learn a lot about biology and ecology of these organisms as well as how they are used by humans, and even sometimes the role they play in Irish folklore. However, the rockpools host many other types of organisms, some of which are less known or not known at all by most people, and the perfect example of this are the sea sponges.
Some of you might say: what does a sponge even look like? When they hear the word ‘sponge’, many people immediately think of the sponges they use to clean their dishes after a meal, some would remember the yellow soft sponges that are used especially to give babies a bath (and mind, that actually is a correct answer!), and possibly most of us would think that we are just talking about some sort of weird plants! Actually, there is a bit of truth in all of these ideas, but let’s proceed one step at a time.
Sponges are the ancestor of all animals, us human beings included, believe it or not! They are extremely simple organisms made of a bunch of different types of cells immersed in a gelatinous substance. The outer surface of sponges is delimited by a skin-like layer, and their body is pierced by multiple pores called ostia which lead to a more or less complex system of internal canals, also lined with a similar skin-like layer. This structure of the body is what gives these animals the scientific name of ‘Porifera’, that means ‘pore bearers’. Through the ostia, the sea water can get into the body of a sponge and circulate inside through its canals, from where the water gets in contact with specialised cells called choanocytes, which are sometimes organised in distinct chambers. These curiously shaped cells (have a look at the diagram below to get to know them) have a number of projections arranged like a skirt that act like a sieve, filtering from the water all the bacteria and other small organisms and organic material the sponge feeds on. Once well filtered, the water is expelled from the body of the sponge through larger openings on its surface called oscula. The presence of this complex water system makes the sponge body very porous, which explains why they can absorb so much water and why they have been used for so long by humans to wash surfaces, from our own skin to our cars.
Diagram showing how the sponge body is organised. The choanocyte, beside the ‘skirt’ of cell projections called microvilli, has also a much longer projection called ‘flagellum’, which is located centrally within the ring of microvilli and, with its whip-like movements, creates the water flow in through the ostia and outside the sponge body through the oscula.
The apparent simplicity of these animals and their nature as filter-feeders (the term we give to animals that filter from the water the tiny organisms they feed on) might make you think that sponges are harmless, but you’re wrong if you think so! In fact, despite the lack of protection given by shells, scales, thorns, teeth or any other possible type of physical defence, sponges are on the forefront of intense competition for the substratum that occurs on the seafloor without us knowing it. So how do they compete if they can’t attack their rivals? The answer is actually pretty cool: sponges have become perfect chemical weapons! Similarly to the plants they are often confused with, which cannot pull out their roots from the soil and run away from danger, sponges live attached to the seafloor, so they have evolved an arsenal of more or less complex compounds that can be extremely toxic to the taste of potential predators or the contact with unfortunate neighbours. Don’t worry though, very few sponge species can be considered harmful for humans, and none of them is found in Ireland! And that’s not all: sometimes, the toxic compounds the sponges use for their own defence are not produced by the sponges themselves, but by some microorganisms like bacteria or fungi living in the sponge body. In fact, another fascinating aspect of sponge biology is that these animals act like living condos inhabited by the most diversified communities! Just imagine it, not only a large number of other invertebrates, like small crustaceans and worms, but even seaweed choose to live inside the sponge bodies and to use their canals as a shelter, but sponges can also host inside their tissues a plethora of bacteria, viruses, fungal spores, yeasts and microalgae that sometimes are so crowded they make up 35% of the sponge volume! And microbes can produce an incredibly diverse range of unique chemical compounds, as we know from the high number of pharmaceutical drugs available on the market that are based on them, so sponges can cleverly take advantage of this precious skill of their tenants for their own defence in exchange for nutrients and shelter.
It’s not surprising then that in the last few decades scientists have been busy studying the compounds produced by the sponges and the microorganisms living in them because it was discovered that these molecules often have pharmacological properties that can be used to treat a large range of human diseases, cancer included. One of these groups of scientists are based in the National University of Ireland Galway and it’s called CÚRAM, and they are studying the slime produced by some Irish sponge species to fight cancer and harmful microbes. In 2021 the CÚRAM team worked on the establishment of a new public exhibition based in Galway Atlantaquaria showcasing how marine resources can aid medical device research. The exhibit is located on the upper floor of the National Aquarium and is fully accessible. Visitors can browse information panels, tanks and models of marine resources that are used in medical device research. This new exhibit investigates how marine-inspired medtech research can heal the body and it also reinforces the message of the importance of Ocean health and conservation, tying in perfectly with the Galway Atlantaquaria’s education programme. One of the main attractions in the CÚRAM exhibit is the sponge tank, which give the opportunity to the general public to get to know these fascinating animals along with other very interesting groups of organisms of large biomedical potential like seaweed, barnacles and microalgae.
Now that you have learned so much about sponges, you probably wonder where you can find them. As said at the beginning of this blog post, sponges can be found on the shore when the tide is low: pulling up rocks (but don’t forget to put them back in the same position as you found them!), you might discover underneath a sheet of soft tissue of different colours: orange, red, yellow, green, even pink. To tell which sponge you’re looking at, though, is not necessarily an easy task because there are around 400 different species of sponges that have been identified in the waters of Ireland and the UK, and just a few of them can be reliably identified by eye. However, don’t let this stop you from discovering the diversity of sponges you have at your fingertips: there are great resources out there to start getting familiar with the most common species of sponges, as for instance the ‘Sea squirts and sponges of Britain and Ireland’ guide published by Seasearch in 2018. Also, if you are a diver you can join two great citizen science projects currently carried on by Seasearch Ireland. One is the Sponge Safari, which aims at increasing the number of records of six of the common and easily recognisable sponges that can be reliably identified to species in the field, i.e. the chocolate finger sponge, the crater sponge, the black tar sponge, the boring sponge, the elephant hide sponge, and the purse sponge (all super cool names, aren’t they?!). Seasearch Ireland is also carrying on in collaboration with us at Galway Atlantaquaria a Sponge recording project which aim is to help map the distribution of sponges in Irish waters, particularly cryptic and difficult to identify species, by marrying citizen science observations with microscopy analysis of sponge samples collected by the Seasearch divers.
We hope you are intrigued now and want to learn more about these super interesting animals! Keep following our blog and come and visit us at Galway Atlantaquaria to learn more about sponges and many other fantastic marine creatures. Keep Discovering!
"Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."
Well, let me tell you about how the sea connects us all. A few weeks ago, we posted the blog about seaweed and told you there is so much more to learn….well.
Last week I noticed this gentleman filling bags with seaweed, and I asked about the haul. Well, we started chatting and I was mesmerised by Padraic’s amazing story. We got chatting more and he talked about the years of research he has put into the magic of seaweed for preparing his beautiful organic garden in Adare House.
As I was talking to Padraig, I commented that we had only discussed the collection of seaweed as fertiliser for gardens to reduce the use of chemicals in the environment…..and here is what our random encounter discovered….
As the Warren Buffet quote says, a person who plants a tree cares for others, and it is a true reflection of Padraics character, working for a brighter future with sustainability and nature in mind. Padraic has been using seaweed for his organic garden for over 30 years and its beauty & bounty is a great example of how the ocean can help us and how much we need to protect it.
Here is some of the background of Adare House;
“Gardening is a hobby of ours for over 30 years. Before moving into to the Guest House we had a two-acre garden in the country, which was located on the shores of Galway Bay. Over 30 years ago my father and I started sowing all our vegetables using fresh seaweed, which was dug into the soil to produce the richest soil from which we eat fantastic organic fruit and vegetables. We never used chemicals and we still don’t to this day.
As you can tell, we can learn so much more about how the ocean provides everything we need to thrive and survive. Padraic’s extensive experience only justifies the need for sustainability, ocean literacy and protection of the sea.
Tour of the Organic Garden
Padraic was so kind to invite me along and see the garden!
I am going to visit the Garden in the next few months to check on the progress
I really enjoyed this blog as I was fortunate to meet another sustainable champion of the Wild Atlantic Way. I am really looking forward to working with Padraig as he has some wonderful stories to share about the gardens and planting for the future. As the Warren Buffet saying goes "Those that plants trees are thinking of others, and we need more people thinking about the future, which needs sustainability.
Over the next few months Padraic and The Aquarium will be hosting a beach clean and workshop on new sustainability products and practice, we hope you can join us.
Our goal is to share the diversity of stories that reflect the beauty of the sea, we are doing this by sharing images, stories, art, reviews & interpretation of the beautiful blue ocean we are only discovering.
This blog is to record the adventures , ocean literacy, discoveries , and showcase the hidden beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way.