Oklahoma Aquarium strengthens international partnership with aquarium in the Middle East

Oklahoma Aquarium strengthens international partnership with aquarium in the Middle East

Oklahoma Aquarium biologists recently visited their Sister Aquarium, the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem, to cross-train with staff in the areas of animal health, husbandry, education, and research. This is the first time staff from the Oklahoma Aquarium conducted trainings in these areas in Israel.

Amy Alexopoulos, Lead Aquarist of Marine Fishes, and Ann Money, Director of Education and Research, shared their expertise and collaborated with Israel Aquarium staff in December. Alexopoulos worked alongside the aquarium’s husbandry staff and shared her knowledge and experiences in aquarium animal care, specifically with marine fish and invertebrates. She consulted on animal health, exhibit design, and water filtration systems.

Money presented educational opportunities for the aquarium’s tours and classroom programs, including ways to incorporate more conservation messaging into their offerings. Shai Ben Ami, Education Director at the Israel Aquarium, and Money also discussed ways to partner on education research that Money is conducting in Oklahoma. Both facilities will quantify the benefit of a field trip to an aquarium based on a student’s interest in STEM.

“The involvement of the Israel Aquarium will lend international support for informal science education and institutions,” Money says.

Dr. Elizabeth Kaufman, Chief Veterinarian at the Israel Aquarium, says Alexopoulos and Money’s passion for what they do sparked staff excitement to new levels. “I can not stress the importance of the impact that Ann and Amy’s visit had on our staff,” says Dr. Kaufman. “Their knowledge and experience gave the staff more tools to accomplish more creative ways of looking at things.”

Staff also discussed possibilities for future collaborative coral research between the two aquariums. The Israel Aquarium has geographic access to the hardiest coral in the world, which allows for an expansion of the research already conducted at the Oklahoma Aquarium to determine what makes the coral so resilient.

While in Israel, Money and Alexopoulos traveled to Eilat, Israel, to conduct day and night dives in the Red Sea, gathering images for support of Money’s doctoral research on coral fluorescence emission as an indicator of coral health.

“The coral of the northern Red Sea, the Sea of Aqaba, are more resilient and hardier than coral in the rest of the world,” Money says. “They are surviving despite the increase in sea surface temperatures that are affecting coral reefs globally.”

Money met with researchers from the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences and Director Aviv Levi of the Underwater Observatory Marine Park to exchange research observations on coral fluorescence. Levi explained how the observatory conducts cutting-edge coral research, specifically with its student programs growing coral at the observatory and replanting them on wild reef systems. The students also grow large corals within the observatory, which are regularly culled and planted on the reef.

“My hope is to work collaboratively, utilizing the coral research we’re doing in Jenks, Oklahoma, with the accessibility and already established coral grow program at the Underwater Observatory Marine Park in Eilat, Israel,” Money says.

Staff from the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium will visit the Oklahoma Aquarium in spring 2020.

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