Be inspired by (small) life at the Hi-Tec Microscope Exhibit
By Stuart Buchanan / 11 July 2013
An estimated 50-80% of all life on Earth is found under the ocean surface, and much of that is so tiny that we can’t even see it. And yet, these tiny organisms are linked to everything else in the ocean, and play an important role in maintaining the ocean’s natural biodiversity.
At the Two Oceans Aquarium’s Hi-Tec Microscope Exhibit, you’ll get to see the small picture for the very first time. Get up close and learn all about the little creatures that play a big part in sustaining life in the ocean. Under the microscope, you’ll also see that many “plants” are actually animals too! Watch the video below for a brief introduction to the exhibit:
anemones, baby jellyfish, starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins and nudibranchs (a kind of sea slug). While all these creatures can usually be seen with the naked eye, much of the magic of their world and how they move around, eat and communicate are invisible to us. Magnified some 200 times, and displayed on our big-screen televisions, all is revealed. See the barnacle using its feather-like arm to catch food, or the sea cucumber’s sticky feelers reach out for its prey. You’ll see how the hundreds of tiny feet on a sea urchin help it to move around, and how the tentacles of an anemone all work together to attract brine shrimp towards its hungry mouth.
Listen to the stories and lessons that these little creatures can teach us from the Aquarium’s excellent team of volunteers. The exhibit is manned by a team of enthusiastic volunteers keen to share their ocean knowledge with visitors. Douw Steyn, a volunteer at the Aquarium since 2006 and now also an Aquarium Ambassador, grew up next to the sea and gained a passion for the ocean from a young age. “I’ve taken a lot of fish out of the sea, but now that I’m older and more aware of marine conservation, it’s time for me to pay something back,” he says. “As a private citizen, it’s very difficult to convince people that their methods of baiting are harmful, for example. But here, I can educate lots of people about the ocean and hopefully make a difference.”
Behind the scenes, Douw explains how the stars (and starfish) of the Hi-Tec Microscope Exhibit arrived here. “Our divers go out and collect kelp for the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit, and they will often find lots of little creatures living in the kelp’s holdfasts – these are the root-like grips that kelp use to keep hold of rocks on the ocean floor.” They provide a good shelter for sea urchins, rock lobsters and much more, and those that can be displayed at the Hi-Tec Microscope Exhibit will be looked after there.
“The ecosystem is like a chain,” Douw explains as he points the microscope at a bowl of strawberry anemones. “If you take one link out of the chain, you have problems.” He recounts a story about the disappearance of the Cape sea urchin from our coastline in 1994, and how this was linked to an increase in the rock lobster population. The decrease in urchins had a knock-on effect on perlemoen numbers, which have significant commercial value for humans. This illustrates just how fragile and interdependent life in the ocean is – and it all starts with the animals at the bottom of the food chain. “Everything has a role,” Douw says. “We can’t take anything out of the ocean without having a knock-on effect somewhere else.”
By seeing these animals close-up, and hearing how they fit into the big picture, Douw hopes that visitors will think differently about the ocean. “Many of our visitors have no idea that an anemone is actually an animal, or have never seen a live sea urchin, or even thought about how barnacles feed,” he explains. “What’s nice about coming here is getting to see everything close-up under the microscope at this exhibit, and then walking across to the Touch Pool, where they can also touch and feel ocean life too.”