Sunday, April 25, 1999

Aquarium residents watched over by school of water fanatics

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The life support system at the Oceanic Adventures Newport Aquarium that keeps the thousands of fish healthy is more than mere machinery to the plant engineer, Peter Leveque.

        “To me, the system is a living organism, just as the animals are,” Mr. Leveque explained. “The parts of the pumps and filters and motors have a life of their own, and that life is used to maintain the life of the fish.”

        Mr. Leveque, an Oregon native who spent seven years at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport before accepting the job in Newport, oversees a staff of four people who, like himself, are a mixture of engineer, machinist and biologist. These qualities all come into play in sustaining life in the 54 tanks that will eventually be home to some 11,000 animals.

        “Our job is to provide a safe, healthy environment for the animals,” he said. “That includes the quality of the water, as well as temperature and clarity. We work directly with the water quality laboratory people who constantly monitor the tanks and tell us if there is a need to make any mechanical changes.”

Behind the scenes
        Behind the scenes and tanks of the $40 million facility on the banks of the Ohio River exists a jungle of pipes, pumps and filters, large and small, that move and condition about one million gallons of water continuously.

        Banks of electric meters send power to the huge system, which also pumps air into the tanks. Everything is monitored by a separate computer system.

        But as Mr. Leveque walked through a clear acrylic tunnel of the Amazon exhibit, where visitors will see the fish that inhabit the mighty river and its tributaries, he compared it to an aquarium in someone's living room.

        “The only real difference between a home tank and this exhibit is the size and volume,” he said. “We must maintain water quality, proper temperature and flow, just like someone with their home tank, to maintain life.”

        And that brings him back to the mating of machinery and fish and the life span of both.

        “The parts I work with have a life, which can be abused or used to the fullest advantage,” Mr. Leveque said. “My task is to make the parts last as long as possible, to keep the fish inside the tanks as healthy as possible. Everything here works in unison.”

        He pointed out that there are built-in redundancies in the life support system to keep the tank environment in balance should a piece of machinery fail.

Redundancy built in
        The 380,000-gallon shark tank has four pumps to move the water, but it can operate on three while a pump is repaired or replaced.

        As an example of how well the life support system func tions, the water in the shark tank is moved through the sand filtering system about 10 times every 24 hours. That's filtering 3.8 million gallons a day.

        Erika Schissler, the water quality laboratory supervisor who is one of several aquarium staff members who came here from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, works closely with Mr. Leveque.

        “We test the water in the various tanks every day, as needed, to be sure that the water is exactly what the different fish need,” the Columbia, Md., native said.

        Everything will be up and running on or before May 15 when the aquarium officially opens to the public.

        Ms. Schissler has lab operations at both locations, because as fish are brought in for eventual display, they are usually housed temporarily in one of the tanks at the warehouse facility. The water there must be maintained in the same manner as the aquarium exhibits.

        She and her staff also are responsible for making the sea water for the ocean exhibits, and testing the water in both the fresh water and salt water reservoirs.

        “We have a 25,000-gallon reservoir for fresh water, which comes initially from the Newport water system and then is filtered to remove chlorine and other chemicals,” Ms. Schissler said.

        “There are two 40,000-gallon salt water reservoirs where we blend the fresh water with the proper recipe of ingredients to duplicate sea water. We can provide a constant source of both types of water, so the life support people can deliver water to any tank as needed.”


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