Zoo staff cleaning up the Surfside Jetty on one of their monthly trips to the Texas coast, protecting wildlife here at home!
It is no secret that the Houston Zoo has been hard at work to protect our local marine wildlife by going plastic bag and bottle free, participating in sea turtle surveys and crab trap clean-ups, and organizing staff led jetty clean-ups down in Surfside. Many of you have even joined us on our journey by pledging to go plastic bag free when we hosted the Washed Ashore exhibit back in 2016 – but your impact doesn’t stop there! Each time you visit the Houston Zoo to see marine species like sea turtles and sharks, a portion of your admission ticket goes to support MarAlliance in their work to save ocean wildlife. While the zoo may be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of any major city, many members of our extended zoo family are hard at work saving wildlife in both remote and metropolitan areas all around the globe! One of these partners, MarAlliance, works to protect threatened marine species in Central America, Micronesia, and West Africa.
MarAlliance aims to improve the understanding and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats, especially sharks and rays, on the Mesoamerican reef. This is done by monitoring the abundance and characteristics of species in key sites, which in turn creates new knowledge that can be shared throughout local and global communities. MarAlliance trains local fishermen to help with research at sea and engage local communities in order to obtain information on sightings of important species. The knowledge gained from this work is shared in many different formats to many different audiences, from the youngest audiences in pre-schools all the way to politicians and other decision-makers. Through this, they hope to inspire a sense of wonder about the ocean, to promote sustainable tourism, and to foster the effectiveness of marine protected areas.
MarAlliance had a fantastic year in 2017 and wanted to share these updates will all of you:
Educated thousands of kids on marine wildlife and conservation strategies and took hundreds to meet and study fish like sharks, rays, and grouper.
During 233 days of work in the field conducted with fishers, students and community-leaders, thousands of fish were counted as teams swam over 250 km (155 miles) of coastal and reef habitats. This is just shy of the distance you would travel from the Houston Zoo to Austin, Texas!
Uncovered new information on fisheries, species behavior and habitats that is pushing the frontiers of science and informing both management decisions and conservation action.
Put small tags on little known sharks of the deep waters, and tracked increasingly threatened whale sharks, manta rays and tiger sharks to better understand how they move about in the ocean, and reinforce strategies for protection.
There is never a dull moment for our friends at MarAlliance! We are extremely proud of all of the hard work MarAlliance has put in this year to save marine species, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they are able to accomplish in the new year. Remember, every time you visit the zoo you are helping to support projects like this one – thank you for your help in saving animals in the wild!
Emma, Justin's youngest daughter poses with a cold-stunned sea turtle in need of a helping hand.
Justin said his son Trenton (pictured here) has now rescued 9 turtles, most of which they found this year.
Turtles collected by Justin and his family were brought to NOAA fisheries, where they could receive proper care.
Justin's oldest daughter Cheyenne is pictured here. In one week the family rescued nearly 20 sea turtles!
Justin helps Lyndsey Howell of NOAA Fisheries handle green sea turtles that have been recently cold-stunned.
Many of you may remember a post from a few weeks back about Justin, a local community member, and sea turtle superhero. Justin has a passion for sea turtles, and while he works full-time in the city, you can find him during his down time saving sea turtles all along the Texas Coast. The last time we caught up with Justin, he and his son Trenton had come to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned in early December. Since sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they have to use the environment and sun to regulate their body temperature. If the water temperature drops too quickly and the turtles can’t get to warmer waters, their bodies shut down and need help. With the recent cold front, Justin and his three children Cheyenne, Trenton, and Emma, headed back out to Christmas Bay in search of turtles in need of rescue.
Justin was able to make it out to Christmas Bay four days during the first week of January, braving the worst of the cold weather. Over the course of the week, Justin and his kids picked up a total of 20 sea turtles! Unfortunately, 3 of these turtles had already passed away, but the 17 remaining turtles are receiving care from our partners at NOAA Fisheries in Galveston. The NOAA Fisheries Galveston Laboratory operates a sea turtle research and wild sea turtle rehabilitation center. This facility is the only one of its kind in the world, raising hundreds of turtles each year for fisheries and biological research while also serving as a sea turtle hospital for the upper Texas Gulf coast. The Houston Zoo assists NOAA with weekly sea turtle surveys along the Texas coast, and the veterinary team provides care for any sick or injured sea turtles that NOAA brings in. When speaking of NOAA, Justin said: “I will never be able to thank Lyndsey and the team in Galveston at NOAA enough for the work they do on a daily basis to rescue, rehabilitate, and ultimately release these beautiful animals back into the wild.” As for Justin, he’ll be out there for as long as the turtles need his help – after rescuing his first turtle entangled in line 6 or 7 years ago, he was hooked on what he refers to as both his passion, and obsession. While his wife dedicates her time to pet rescue efforts, Justin says there’s nothing he would rather do with his time than rescue sea turtles and make sure they are able to return safely back into the wild.
If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.
The next time you visit the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, check out our newest residents. We have received 3 critically endangered Lake Victoria cichlids (Haplochromis perrieri) from the New England Aquarium. Lake Victoria is one of the great lakes of Africa and it is the third largest lake in Africa. Several factors have contributed to the decline of this species in the wild. One of the biggest issues is the Nile Perch. Nile Perch were introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1950’s. This non-native species had a population boom in the 1980’s which coincided with the decline of Haplochromis perrieri from the lake. Sadly, the Haplochromis perrieri haven’t been seen in the wild since the 1980’s.
In general, cichlids are very popular with fish enthusiasts. There are many varieties with a huge range of colors to choose from. There are well over 1,000 cichlid species in the wild and it is estimated that there are several hundred species in Lake Victoria alone.
Cichlids are only found in tropical and subtropical zones of Africa, the Americas and Asia. In Africa, they are found mostly in the lakes of the great rift valley in east Africa – Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika and of course, Lake Victoria. They vary in size from the smallest at 1.4” to the largest species at 28-32” in length.
What are some of the most interesting things about cichlids? These fish can change color to reflect their mood – such as aggression, stress or being ready to spawn. They live in very different habitats including rocky shorelines, sandy or muddy bottoms or shores with and without vegetation. Most cichlids are omnivores, eating things like mosquito larvae, tiny crustaceans and worms. Some are pure carnivores and specialize in hunting smaller fish. There are also cichlids that are strictly plant or algae eaters. Some cichlid species are mouth
brooders. Mouth brooders hold eggs in their mouths to hide them from predators. Even after hatching, the babies are allowed into the parent’s mouth if they are in danger.
Our new cichlids are found I Lake Victoria over sand and mud in the littoral or shoreline zones. They can reach a total length of approximately 2.5 inches. The females are primarily gray with some black markings, while the males of the species show more color. They are hunters, eating fish for their diet. They are also mouth brooders and hold the eggs in their mouth until they hatch.
Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
You may have heard the news of our adorable female sea lion pup that was recently born at the Houston Zoo. What you may not know is that in between caring for our sea lions, training them, conducting keeper chats, and engaging zoo guests, our sea lion staff is also working additional hours to create a healthier ocean for wildlife right here in Texas.
The Sea Lion Staff assists an ongoing fishing line recycling program which aims to reduce the fishing line on the Surfside Jetty in Surfside, Texas while providing an opportunity for other Zoo staff and volunteers to get involved in work outside our Zoo gates. This program was created through NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Sea Grant at Texas A&M University’s Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program. Fishing line is a hazard to wildlife such as sea turtles, fish, rays, dolphins, and shore birds because it can entangle animals, making it hard for them to swim or fly and find food. The Sea Lion Staff conducts monthly cleanups on the Surfside Jetty, removing and recycling fishing line from the monofilament bins, as well as collecting line that is caught in between the rocks. In addition to the fishing line, they also recover trash and recyclables.
Here are their accomplishments so far:
• Began program in August 2014 • Pounds of fishing line recycled to date – 94 lbs • Pounds of other trash and recycled items collected to date – trash: 592 lbs, recycling: 429 lbs • Number of staff and volunteers involved to date – 22 staff, 3 interns, 20 volunteers • Number of different departments involved to date – 14 Zoo departments
The Sea Lion Staff became extremely passionate about the issue of marine debris after working with one of our previous sea lions, Astro. Astro was a California sea lion that came to us with a wound on his neck, possibly from becoming entangled in marine debris, possibly a carelessly discarded fishing net or fishing line. After working alongside Astro, the Sea Lion team dedicated their time off, weekends, and work time to reduce the threat of marine debris and entanglement on ocean animals.
If you visit the sea lions at the Houston Zoo, you may get a chance to see a replica fishing line recycling bin and hear about how you can help save ocean animals here in Texas. Our sea lions are not only ambassadors for our ocean-friendly seafood initiative, but they also help us tell the story of marine debris and the dangers of discarded fishing line in our oceans. You can help protect ocean animals by making sure your fishing line doesn’t end up in the water-instead, place it in a monofilament recycling bin! These bins can be found all along the Upper Texas Coast.
Shark conservationist, Alerick Pacay, Program Coordinator at Fundación Mundo Azul, a non-profit conservation organization, based in Guatemala, received conservation and education training at the Houston Zoo. Alerick had participated in a video conservation messaging workshop Houston Zoo staff held in Belize last year for marine conservation organizations. He and his organization, reached out to Houston Zoo staff when he learned more about the Houston Zoo’s conservation and education programming.
Fundación Mundo Azul main goal is to protect the ocean. Alerick works with local fishermen to monitor the 30 species of sharks in Guatemala and spends much of his time inspiring visitors to the Guatemala Zoo and local communities about the importance of protecting sharks. He educates his audiences about the importance of sharks and other wildlife in the ocean and how they can save this wildlife by reducing their plastic use. Plastic and other trash in the oceans is one of the biggest threats to marine life.
The training he received provided him with the knowledge to increase his impact with his audiences. Our staff also learned a tremendous amount from Fundación Mundo Azul’s programs.
Along with training at the Zoo, he also got to accompany our staff and our partners at NOAA in some sea turtle protection work in the wild. He assisted with rescuing a very big loggerhead sea turtle in Galveston.
The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with wild animals in mind. A simple effort like being aware of what types of paints we use has a surprisingly large impact on wildlife because it impacts their natural environment.
Paints can have harsh chemicals that affect the air we all breathe, or if you dispose of leftover paint improperly, it can get into the streams and waters wildlife like sea turtles call home.
Paint and the Houston Zoo
Recently the Zoo used environmentally friendly paint to label the storm drains behind the scenes as a reminder that the cleaner we keep our waters, the healthier our wildlife. Storm water drains are a part of all cities, helping alleviate flood waters that build up during storms and are meant only to have rainwater since Houston storm drains lead right back out to our bayous, and eventually flow to the Gulf of Mexico.
For our storm drain project we were able to visit New Living to source paint that is water-based and contains no volatile organic compounds in both the paint and paint pigments. These compounds, called VOCs, are immediately noticed as the intense “paint smell” that can give you a fast headache. This smell is from chemicals that people should not breathe, and animals should not have in their water supply. The paint that New Living offers allows us to be sure that when we‘re using paint for projects, we have the option to choose a product that is made in a more environmentally friendly way, contains less harsh chemicals, and if ever exposed to the environment would not impact it harshly like with traditional paints.
As a Zoo-Based Conservation organization, we have chosen to include no-VOC paint whenever possible to ensure all operations of the Zoo are done in a way that is friendly for wildlife. The Houston Zoo aims to be a leader in being a part of these new and innovative practices that are conscious of our wildlife and our interactions with the natural world we all live in.
You can help save wildlife too!
If you are using paint that contains VOCs, be sure to wear safety masks and take any remainder paint to a hazardous waste facility. In Houston, you can take this kind of paint (like oil-based paint) to the West Park Consumer Recycling Center located in Houston. If you have-water based paint, you can let the paint dry (often people will mix it with cat litter for a faster drying process) and toss the dry paint in the trash for regular pick-up.
Next time you buy paint, ask for no-VOC paint to ensure the products you are using are safe for wildlife. Visit stores like New Living to ensure you are purchasing wildlife-friendly products.
This is a sustainability reference document.
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Visit Moli, one of our resident Baird’s tapirs, in this special Spotlight on Species event, April 28 - 29! Often confused with hippos, pigs or anteaters, tapirs are a rare mammal from the forests and mountains of Central and South America and southeast Asia. Their closest living relatives are actually rhinos and horses! For times, visit our Events Calendar. ... See MoreSee Less