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Aquarium to open exhibit of sea stars, crabs, shrimp

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Ken Yates, director of biological programs for the Florida Aquarium, gazes at a rainbow sea star.
TAMPA -- Toothy fish, colorful fish and just plain weird-looking fish all have their place at the Florida Aquarium.

Next month, the spineless kind get their turn.

The aquarium will open its seventh new exhibit, called "No BoneZone," devoted to invertebrates such as hermit crabs, barnacles, sea stars and shrimp.

True, they aren't eye-catching like big sharks or playful river otters. But invertebrates make up a huge part of sea life and are particularly suited to a hands-on exhibit aimed at children, said Jeff Swanagan, the aquarium's president and CEO.

"Most of the animals on the planet don't have backbones, but they have interesting colors and designs," he said. "Kids love to get up close and have close encounters. We want to give little kids -- all kids -- the opportunity to explore these backbone-less critters."

A 600-gallon, L-shaped touch tank will be the exhibit's centerpiece. Aquarium officials picked a name sure to appeal to kids: S.C.U.M., which stands for Sea Stars, Crustaceans, Urchins and Mollusks.

Kids won't want to keep their hands inside for too long. The creatures are native to the Pacific Northwest and live in 52-degree water.

The other live-animal exhibit will be "Terrific Pacific," a 400-gallon tank holding tropical Indo-Pacific corals and creatures. The live corals were either farm-raised or from confiscations and illegal systems.

Swanagan said "No BoneZone" follows the pattern of earlier "Frights of the Forest" and "Dragons Down Under" exhibits of expanding the aquarium's collection beyond the original all-Florida theme.

Other features will include places for kids to climb into oversize models of hermit crab shells, touch different types of real shells and watch a video of how invertebrates find food and avoid becoming a meal for predators.

"No BoneZone," located in the second-floor lobby, will help direct visitors from the Bays and Beaches area to the coral reef tank, Swanagan said. The $160,000 cost is covered by money left over from a state matching grant that funded "Frights of the Forest."

The exhibit, still under construction, is scheduled to open to the public June 10.

This weekend, the aquarium is celebrating its fifth anniversary by offering $5 admission on Saturday and Sunday.

-- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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