Secrets of Living Coasts
Published: 6th Apr 2016Five things you probably didn’t know about Torquay’s coastal zoo.
Living Coasts is famous for its penguins – but there’s a lot more to discover at the coastal conservation charity’s harbour-side base. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Torquay’s coastal zoo.
1. Don’t ignore the bank cormorants
Those two funny looking cormorants are – in conservation terms - the rarest and most important birds in the whole collection. They are the only bank cormorants outside southern Africa.
Bank cormorants are found in South Africa and Namibia. The world population is probably now around 4,000 birds. The species is classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Living Coasts Senior Head Keeper Lois Rowell went to South Africa last year to help hand-rear chicks and test specially-devised new diets. She worked with SANCCOB, a leading marine conservation charity specialising in threatened seabirds such as the bank cormorant and African penguin. They are Living Coasts’ long-term partner in the country.
2. Filtering down
In one sense, Living Coasts is a water filtration system with some birds on top. The attraction is built around a super-skimmer, a large octagonal chamber where ozone enriched bubbles remove organic compounds such as food and waste particles from water in a process called protein skimming. The Living Coasts skimmer is the height of a two storey house and more than 5 metres across; when it was built it was one of the largest in the country.
Water Services Technician Derek Youd can reel off some impressive statistics: “We hold 1700 cubic metres of seawater taken from the Bay in a closed system of interconnected pools and circulated by two 55kw pumps. The system can process 825 cubic metres an hour - that’s 19,800 cubic metres a day or 138,600 cubic metres per week.” The waste - fish waste, bird poo - is diluted and given 24 hours of ultra violet sterilization to kill any harmful bacteria; Living Coasts can fairly claim to send the water back out into the Bay cleaner than when it came in.
3. The aquarium is underground
Below decks at Living Coasts you’ll find some extraordinary coastal creatures. Where once there were broad, plain concrete corridors there are now tanks of four-eyed fish, venomous stingrays and elegant seahorses.
The Living Coasts aquarium is home to around 195 individual animals of 36 species, including 19 fish species. There are 10 water systems and a total of 21 tanks. Those tanks that need heating have inline heaters and in the winter more warmth can be provided. Tanks that need cooling have inline chillers – the biggest is for the octopus tank, as this is a species that lives in slightly deeper water, so it needs to be cooler.
The system is linked to a computer monitoring system which can trigger alarms if any equipment fails. Staff can monitor remotely 24 hours a day.
4. Lots of bits are on top of other bits
The compact, tightly-designed site has many layers and contains much more than you might think when you look at it from outside. The beautiful, restful waders’ estuary is an oasis of calm that sits directly over the bustling café. In fact, there are 1,000 tonnes of substrate and water on the roof of the restaurant – plus the birds. In all, the site uses 2,300 tonnes of substrate - aggregate, sand, alluvium, pebbles and topsoil - which is nearly a metre deep in places.
5. The jelly fish are supposed to be upside down!
Cassiopea (upside-down jellyfish) are found in warmer coastal regions around the world, including shallow mangrove swamps. They are effectively floating greenhouses; they have algae in their tentacles (correctly lappets, or oral arms) which make food using sunlight. The zoo’s aquarium uses specialist lighting to replicate sunshine. The common name comes from the way in which they live upside-down on the seabed in order to photosynthesise as effectively as possible. And here’s an amazing fact: these jellyfish are sometimes picked up by the crab Dorippe frascone and carried on its back to defend itself against predators.