Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Behind the Scenes at the Carolina Coastal Museum, Sunset Beach, NC

Well, we are just back from a lovely off-season February weekend at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. It was chilly at times and rained here and there; but we were treated to enough sunshine breaks to keep us happy - and the sunshine took center stage by Sunday morning. Of course, if the weather's a bit drippy, there's still a lot in the area to keep a family happily occupied. One of our favorite places to visit is the Carolina Coastal Museum in neighboring Ocean Isle.

They are always adding new things at the museum, but my daughter never tires of her visits to their tide pool exhibit, where she can touch and get a up-close look at lots of different sea creatures. This time around, there were baby star fish, and a baby oyster toadfish. And Big Red (the resident crab) just molted again, so his latest molting was available for touching on one of the rocks in the tide pool. (We were told that he's getting so big that he's kept in his own tank now, and is only allowed out into the tide pool twice a day now under supervision.

One of the reasons we love coming to the coast during the less busy times of year is the extra time staff at the museum have to spend with us. And this time, we were treated to an informal "behind the scenes" tour, when we were invited into the pump room that runs the Museum's tide pool exhibit. In the following photos, you can see a big open-topped tank which contains thousands of small plastic "cheerio"-shaped things that aerate the water from the tide pool as it flows through them. The water (now nice and full of oxygen) is then cleaned by flowing through UV filters (the tall black-capped pipes) and then through a carbon filter and then back into the tide pool.

Emily was also shown the museum's spare tank for baby fish (This was where she saw the baby starfish.), which also serves as a "time-out" place when fish need to be separated from the rest of the tide pool residents because of illness - or naughty behavior (i.e. when they try to eat another resident of the pool). Notice the big grey plastic bin next to the tank in the photo. There were several of these and they are all full of salt!

It is our understanding that the fishy residents of the Museum require about 10 hours of care each week. Between feedings, and taking regular samples to measure things like the salinity and nitrogen content of the water, the Carolina Coastal Museum relies heavily on the help of volunteers. Perhaps in the future when we are able to spend longer stretches of time in Sunset Beach, our family will be able to provide some of that kind of support too.