Student Researcher Eric Dean builds a mudflat from scratch
Raising larvae in an aquarium isn’t always easy. But what if the aquarium tank was a recreated replica of a larval animal’s natural environment? That’s the idea CMA student researcher, and soon to be 12th grader at South High School in Torrance, Eric Dean came up with to test this summer.
Using one of the tanks in the Aquatic Nursery, he started gathering the tools and supplies needed to create a miniature salt marsh, the natural environmental many larval animals rely on to successfully start their lives in the ocean. Salt marshes provide a calm place for larvae to settle and grow, safely tucked away from pounding waves and rocky shores.
“The salt marsh in the tank is a refugium, essentially an area without predators that provides a safe place for the smallest animals to grow. There’s a lot of mud, some seaweed and a few rocks,” explained Dean.
An avid aquarium enthusiast, Dean is the perfect person to tackle creating a salt marsh in the Aquatic Nursery. He’s been building tanks and keeping fish at home for years. One time after a power outage he rigged the aquarium to his father’s car engine to keep the pump running and all his fish alive. This knack for being inventive and resourceful is paying off at CMA.
One of the biggest challenges was constructing a drain for the tank that keeps water flowing, but doesn’t trap larval animals. After consulting with CMA staff member Andres Carrillo, Dean designed and built a customized drain, which sits in the center of the tank.
After designing the drain, the next main ingredient was mud. “Mako Fukuwa (one of CMA’s Aquarists) and I headed out to the salt marsh with buckets and shovels,” said Dean. “We loaded up a vehicle with six five-gallon buckets full of mud. After dumping all the mud in the tank it took three days for it to settle and the water to clear.”
Next steps involved adding rocks and seaweed. The tank also features a magnetic drive utility pump capable of pumping 350 gallons of water an hour, a surge that imitates waves and tides and a full-spectrum light that replicates the sun’s intensity to foster photosynthesis and algae growth. Dean also plans on adding more filter feeders, such as clams, to help naturally filter the water since the standard way of keeping tanks clean doesn’t work in a mud-filled aquarium.
“My hope is to use Eric’s salt marsh for another student who will be raising larval crustaceans this fall,” said CMA Research Curator Kiersten Darrow. “It’s exciting to have his project available as a resource for other research students with big ideas.”
Funding for the full-spectrum light and the aquarium was provided by FRIENDS of CMA.