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Shuk Kwan's favourite object

We asked Shuk Kwan, who works in our Marketing Department, about her favourite object in the museum - the seahorses.

Your question about what my favourite object is prompted me to think about the seahorses and why I liked them. I like the seahorses I think, because they are very beautiful, they obviously come in different shapes, sizes and colours when I look at them they seem so fragile and beautiful. I love the way their tale curls around and anchors them as well.

Also, I think it is because they resonates with a part of me that really likes fantasy, mythology and all that kind of stuff. When I was younger I used to read Roald Dahl; I was an avid book worm so I read Roald Dahl and David Eddings, even Enid Blyton. They were all fantastical authors; the sea horses are like mythical creatures to me. What I also like about them is that the males look after the eggs. I think that is really sweet actually, and they are also monogamous, so they have one mate for life and I just really like that about them.

Nowadays men would probably freak out about holding the eggs inside them and giving birth but, for the seahorses it’s so natural and actually it makes me respect them more.

How we count our fish

We recently finished our annual animal stock take or census to check how many creatures we have at present in the aquarium, and to check that our stock records match what is out there in reality. This is very important to run the aquarium, and we are obliged to do this census annually as terms of our zoo license.

If you are wondering how we count all these animals, it all depends on the animal!

It's a piece of cake to count creatures such as starfish and sea urchins because they stay still. It's also pretty easy to count the larger individual animals like the dogfish and frogs.

But what about the small fast moving fish? For these we use a bit of helpful modern technology - a digital camera. This allows us to take a picture of the display and then use that as a reference to count everything later in the office.

The Fijian Reef refurbished

Aquarium curators Jamie and James have been keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

We are happy to say that the Fiji reef development is almost over. We have put out the majority of the corals and fish we have kept in quarantine and the display is now almost fully stocked, save for a few special new additions in the near future. The corals will need a long time to grow to look their best in the future.

If you have a close look at our Fijian Reef display, you can now see variety of creatures such as many kinds of colourful fish, corals and lots of different invertebrates like shrimps and urchins.

With all the different types of corals we display, you can't just put them all in at once in the same places. Each species has its own requirement and ways to grow. Some grow quickly (several centimetres per month), and others need a long time to grow (one centimetre per year), so we have to look after each in a specific way and decide the best time and place to put them back in the display.

Dory is back

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

With the maturation period of the filtration for the aquarium over we are now ready to start adding fish and corals.

It is important to do this slowly to give the filtration a chance to grow in relation to the amount of waste being produced by the fish.

We started with a “clean up crew” of invertebrates like the turbo snail (Turbo sp.) and fish including the convict tang (Acanthurus triostegus). These animals were the first to go in as they are very good at earning their keep, working hard to eat the pest algae or “marine weeds” that will grow out of control if not grazed on by reef animals.

These did an excellent job over the last 2 weeks and we are now ready to add the rest of the animals that will be going on display, including the corals.

This week we have started with a small amount of the corals that we have been growing on behind the scenes in our coral research system and over time we will add the rest. It is important to understand the biology and requirements of the many types of corals we are putting in, to help you decide where to put them.

Not only do we want them to look great straight away, we also want to give them space to grown in the future, in the same way you grow plants in the garden! We can stick these corals to the existing rockwork using a 2 part epoxy putty, we first mixed together it is sticky and feels a bit like blue tack, which helps us to fix the coral in place, but this will then set into a very hard and solid foundation for the coral.

With some new corals place in and the first lot of fish settled in to their new homes, we decided to add one of our favourite fish, the regal tang (Paracanthurus hepatus), most commonly known as “dory”. It is well worth visiting and seeing the new fish and corals added bit by bit over the next couple of weeks.

365 days work a year

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

As you may have noticed, the Horniman Museum and Gardens was closed to the public from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. However, behind the scenes, work carried on as normal.

There has to be at least one member of the aquarium team in every day of the week (no weekends or bank holidays off for us!). We need to check the health of our creatures, test the water quality and ensure the life support systems that keep the water clean is working as normal, as well as cleaning the display, feeding the animals and maintaining the behind the scenes areas. The many research programs we are doing can’t stop for the holidays and data has to keep on being recorded.

Keeping our exhibits healthy is a very important task and so we can’t stop working even for a day. We do this so that our visitors can make the most of their Aquarium visits – we hope our efforts are worth it.

Things will not slow down in 2012, we have lots of exciting projects planned including finishing the coral reef redevelopment and many other things to look forward to. 

The Fijian Display and Jellyfish

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

As we continue to prepare the reef display for the New Year we have also been able to focus again on other aspects of the Aquarium.

As part of our collaboration with the University of Manchester we’ll begin research work with the Red Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas) behind-the-scenes in January. This work will contribute to field research being carried out to preserve amphibians in the wild, a large number of which are critically endangered. 

It was time for some horticulture in our live mangrove display. We’ve been growing various species of mangrove in our Caribbean mangrove display and some have been growing too well. The red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) had grown all the way to the top of the display and had begun to block out the light to the mangroves and corals below, so we have cut them back in preparation for the New Year.

We’ve also been preparing some of our jellyfish for a TV appearance on BBC 4 over the Christmas period. The Blubber Jellyfish (Catostylus mosaicus) will be featured in the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures “Meet Your Brain!” which will be all about our brains and presented by Professor Bruce Hood. The Aquarium’s jellyfish will be featured on the first show at 8pm on 27 December 2011.  

Refilling the Fijian Reef

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

The rockwork in the reef was finished this week, which means the maturation period for the filter was able to begin.

All aquarium filters (including the ones you keep at home) rely on living bacteria to help break down the waste produced by the fish and keep the water clean. When you start up a new aquarium you have to make sure enough time is given to allow the numbers of bacteria to grow. It is also important to add new fish to the aquarium slowly as, with each new fish added, you need to grow more bacteria - this is why it will take us until January to completely fill this display with fish!

Whilst we wait for the filtration to start working, we can continue to look after the fish behind the scenes and prepare the live corals to go back on display.
When you look at a coral you are not looking at just one animal,  you are looking at a lot of small animals called a polyp all living together to form one big coral, this means that if you cut even a small piece of coral off you will have lots of polyps to grow a whole new coral.
We can use this fact to allow us to take cuttings of the corals we have and grow lots of new ones behind the scenes to go on display later, just the same way you can do with plants in the garden. 

Building the Fijian Reef

Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog as they work on the redevelopment of the Aquarium's Fijian Reef display.

We've been busy with the coral reef development. With the fish out and the display dry, we were able to start to build the artificial reef that will form the structure from which the live corals can grow.

  • Building the Fijian Reef, 

It is important when designing and installing a new reef structure to provide as many type of different habitats as possible. This provides a variety of homes for the fish that will be reintroduced into the exhibit as well as spaces for the corals to grow.

Just like the fish, the corals prefer different types of places to live, by having a complex and varied environment we can cater for everyone.

With the main display empty, it also gave us the chance to clean the filtration systems and add new equipment to make it even better than before.

This was a very dirty job as these pieces of equipment are specialists at removing waste from the water, but not so great at removing it from themselves.

With these pieces of equipment clean and the new items added we can ensure great water quality for the fish when they return.

Refurbishing the Fijian Reef

We started redeveloping the Fijian Reef display in our Aquarium this week. Aquarium curators Jamie and James are keeping a blog of their progress.

Day 1: Removing the rocks and connecting tanks

The first step was to remove all the old rock from the display - all 2 tonnes of it! This makes it much easier and less stressful to remove the animals from the display.


We then began to strip down the two focus tanks which are connected to the main display with the frogfish (Antennarius commerson) and clownfish (Amphiprion chrysopterus) in the display removed and placed into our quarantine facilities. 

Throughout the development, we will be monitoring the health of the animals held in quarantine and ensuring they are in the best condition and prepared to go back on display when we are finished.

  • Checking water parameters, Deputy Aquarium Curator James and Zoology Intern Katy checking the water parameters as we introduce the frog fish into quarantine.
    Deputy Aquarium Curator James and Zoology Intern Katy checking the water parameters as we introduce the frog fish into quarantine.

Day 2: Removing the fish, cleaning and emptying the aquarium

First of all, we had the tough job of removing all the sand and mess that was left from the previous day. 

With that job done we were able to remove the fish - these are being housed into our quarantine facility to be cared for while the rest of the work was completed.
We divided ourselves into fish collector and quarantine teams. Working as a team like this ensures the best care possible when moving the animals. It's important to divide all the fish into the quarantine tanks based on the foods they eat and the way the behave - if you don’t do this, you can end up with the fish fighting over their dinner!
We carefully introduced them into their temporary homes and emptied their old display so we can carry on working on the new display.

Day 3: Building the new reef

With the fish out of the now empty and cleaned display, work began on the new reef structure. This framework, created from plastic tanks, will then be layered with rockwork to give it the realistic effect we want.   

Steve Leonard visits the Horniman

In October, Natural History TV presenter and Horniman Patron Steve Leonard visited the Horniman for the first time.

He spent time looking over our planned animal enclosure in the Gardens and at our Aquarium with Aquarium Manager Jamie Craggs. He was particularly interested in the Aquarium team's work in coral research. Deputy Keeper of Natural History Paolo Viscardi also showed him around the Natural History Gallery.

Take a look at the video below to hear his thoughts - or read Steve's blog.

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