When you enter the lobby of Encanto Pet Clinic, you can’t help but notice the saltwater aquarium. Office manager Tina Ireland is primary caretaker of the life within its walls and says “Dr. Ireland decided when we moved to the new clinic in 1999 that he wanted a saltwater aquarium in the lobby to entertain our clients. Even cats and dogs love to watch the fish. I’ve enjoyed learning about the setup and care of the tank, even though it is challenging at times.”
The aquarium is challenging because it is a living eco-system, just like the ocean itself; its survival depending on the health of each and every organism, from the beautifully colored fish, to the living rock and coral.
We find a sense of calmness and intrigue about the aquarium and its inhabitants. They do recognize us and some have personalities that are fun to get to know. Since we are divers, we have respect for the ocean and the inhabitants.” Says Tina. “We hope that our little tank may help people who may not have that opportunity to see these animals in open ocean become a little more aware of what amazing species live in the ocean – and how critical a healthy ocean is for all of us.”
World Oceans Day is celebrated on June 6th of this year, with the 2015 theme of “healthy oceans, healthy planet.” We asked ocean biologist and diver Shaun Pipes to help us understand more about our great oceans.
Q – How did you become involved in the stewardship of the ocean?
A – I began my marine science studies at The University of Arizona under the guidance of Dr. D.A. Thomson. He opened my eyes to the Sea of Cortez and the amazing wildlife found there! I was fortunate to work at the U of A in the Marine Science Dept. for close to 8 years as the course coordinator, lab instructor and course lecturer. We spent many summers travelling with the University throughout The Sea of Cortez and also to places like Costa Rica!
I began scuba diving at about the same time as starting classes at the U of A and knew right away that I wanted to become a dive instructor. I have been teaching dive classes since 1992. I have around 5,000 dives and have been all over the planet doing what I love!
Q – In your opinion, what are the most endangered animals in the ocean?
A – There are some many ways to look at this question! Certainly there are lots of different animals in trouble but I’ll mention the Vaquita as it is endemic to the Northern Sea of Cortez which is so close to us here in Tucson! The Vaquita is the world’s most endangered marine mammal! It is the smallest of the porpoises and can only be found in the northern Sea of Cortez! Their populations have dwindled do to poor fishing strategies associated with the Totoaba (a large fish sought for its white flakey meat and swim bladder). The Mexican government has enacted new laws to help this beautiful animal but they have fallen far from what the species truly needs… and it may go extinct as soon as 2018! International Save the Vaquita Day is July 11th this year!
As a shark biologist, I have to also mention the horrible situation that sharks are in due to legal and illegal commercial fishing of all species for their fins (there are some fishermen who also take the meat, but they are far and few between… the fin gets the highest price due to demand in the Asian market for shark fin soup). Some sources say that over the past 60 years over 90% of all shark populations have been depleted! Only a few species have local protection and that leaves a lot of open ocean for sharks to be taken.
Q – Tell us how pollution affects our coral reefs – and their importance to our planet.
A – The majority of coral reefs need a few things to thrive: plenty of light, clear water, healthy pH, and specific water temperatures. Sadly, these conditions are getting harder and harder to find. The biggest concerns come from the acidification of our oceans and from global warming. These two issues alone can bring the downfall of the largest coral reefs, but then add local run off filled with pollution – corals just don’t seem to have a chance! There are a few places around the world that have healthy corals and when compared to places like the great barrier reefs, you can really see how badly the majority of reefs have become! Not only are the hard and soft corals dying off, but all of the other animals associated with the corals die off as well. I wish there was better news about coral reefs.
Q – What is your favorite ocean animal?
A – I have 2 favorite groups of animals. The sharks of course, and then nudibranchs! Sharks are beautiful to see in the water! They are perfectly designed to glide through the blue! Considering they have been around for over 400 million years, I think they are the pinnacles of ocean evolution! The “nudis” by comparison might seem small and unimportant, but as a new underwater photographer, their color and diversity are perfect for close up photos! I could spend an entire dive looking at just a few nudis and taking their pictures.
Q – What can Encanto Pet Clinic clients learn about the ocean by looking into our saltwater aquarium?
A – One of the first things Dr. Thomson told me when I started out in my marine science studies was that I needed to have a saltwater aquarium! Aquariums give a first hand view of water systems, feeding behaviors, cohabitation (which animals go well with others) and of course, show the beauty that the ocean can hold! I’ve had an aquarium ever since!
Q – World Oceans Day is June 6th. One of their challenges this year is the Better Bag Challenge – to use only recyclable bags instead of plastic bags for one year. Can you tell us how plastic bags and other debris affect our oceans?
A – Plastic bags create such a problem for our oceans! Not only do they directly cause problems for animals that mistakenly consume them (such as sea turtles who confuse the bags for sea jellies – a major component of their diet) but also because they can get wrapped around juvenile animals and cause all sorts of problems as they grow and the bags constrict around their bodies. The plastic bags (along with other plastic waste) break down into smaller pieces (that are digested by all sorts of animals) and currently outnumber real plankton in some areas by as much as 6 to 1!
Encanto Pet Clinic veterinarians and staff thank Shaun Pipes for his work, and his love of our planet. We hope our clients are inspired to help, as well as learn more about ocean life.
“We have seen amazing sights while diving. Giant Manta Rays have swum with us, and are amazing creatures of grace. They enjoy the feel of diver’s bubbles rising up in the water, “says Tina Ireland. “We have been in the water with feeding juvenile whale sharks – and bus size adults. In the Galapagos Islands, we hung onto rocks as we watched hundreds of hammerhead sharks swim by-what a thrilling experience. We have watched clown fish fiercely guard their territories and tiny creatures living among the crevices of corals. Each species is unique – and vital to the environment of our oceans.”