29 October 2012

Pleased to meet you: Quarantine Aquarist Nicholas Nicolle

Stuart Buchanan

Damselfish in distress? Sickly steenbras? An out-of-sorts octopus?

Quarantine Aquarist Nicholas Nicolle – or Nicnic to his colleagues – has seen it all. As the resident “fish doctor” at the Two Oceans Aquarium, he’s in charge of the quarantine section: a private “ward’ away from the public galleries where new animals come to before being introduced to the resident fish.

Quarantine tanks. Where fish come to put their...err...fins up for a few days

The quarantine area is the place where animals in need of treatment are housed and looked after.

Fish in the wild are prone to a number of parasites, the most common being white spot and velvet disease. To treat the fish, Nic prepares a special solution and then gives the fish a “bath”!

“New fish spend 30 days in quarantine to ensure that they are clean and healthy, and ready to join the rest of the animals in the main exhibits. Fish can get all kinds of illnesses and even cancer,” explains Nic. “We bring them here first to make sure that we do not introduce any diseases or parasites to the other exhibits.”

Nic’s current patients are from all walks (and scuttles, and paddles) of life. He recalls how close he came to losing one of them – a beautiful and endemic tiger angelfish.

“After we anaesthetised the tiger angel, we realised that it had a swim bladder infection, and for a while it was very touch-and-go. But I managed to nurse it back to health and now it’s doing just fine.”

A fishy friend – Nic looks fondly at the tiger angelfish he nursed back to health
Hospital food – it's the same everywhere

Success stories like these are what keep Nic happy in his job. Growing up on a farm in Limpopo and learning how to fly-fish sparked his interest in all things fishy. After completing an Honours degree in ichthyology from Rhodes University, he went on to work for a company that tried to prevent alien invasive species from being accidentally transported in the ballasts of big ships as they travel from harbour to harbour. Now in his third year at the Two Oceans Aquarium, his passion for working with animals is clear.

“You definitely form a bond with the animals you treat, and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing one fully recovered – especially if it has been quite serious – and knowing that you are responsible for helping them.”

Nicnic with Cannelloni, the Aquarium's resident green turtle. Cannelloni is currently being trained off-exhibit

And what about advice for any budding aquarists out there who’d like to follow in his footsteps?

“You must love water!” Nic jokes. “And a passion for the ocean is obviously essential.”

Nicholas Nicolle - the fish doctor

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