Georgia Aquarium Dive With the Mantas!

The manta rays were up close and personal for my fourth volunteer dive at the Georgia Aquarium! I’ve already talked about my first and second volunteer SCUBA dives at the Georgia Aquarium. Here, I’ll write a little bit about my 3rd dive, and more about my amazing 4th dive. Included will be some tips, tricks, and lessons about how the Georgia Aquarium keeps maintenance easy and fun, and how that can apply to your home aquarium tank!

So, my 3rd volunteer dive was in the Ocean Voyager tank.  This is the largest aquarium tank in the world. Our mission on this dive was to attach a vacuum and filter pipe to its vertical wall pipe and bury it along the floor of the tank. I submerge, find my fellow divers, and take a minute to admire all of the amazing, graceful fish in the aquarium. The black tip reef sharks, giant groupers, sand tiger sharks, leopard whip tail rays, and whale sharks seem to follow us over to the back corner of the aquarium. There, we get the pipe, bring it to the bottom of the tank and start moving the sand substrate to make a trough to bury the pipe in. We then put the pipe into the appropriate location, attach it to its vertical wall pipe, and secure it before we push all of the sand substrate back over the pipe to make sure that it is properly buried. Once that is finished we move on to cleaning the acrylic viewing windows of the aquarium. Finally, we bring some food down and broadcast feed the fish! I surface with about 550 psi left in my air tank.

My 4th volunteer dive was just yesterday, 2/22/12, and was the most amazing dive yet! The mission was fairly routine. We had to scrub some of the rock work near the main, large viewing window before we scrubbed the acrylic and fed the fish. I had been told that the harder you scrub the rock work, the closer the manta rays get, and this was so very true today! I picked a piece of rock work that looked encrusted with algae and sand and started putting in some elbow grease. The next thing I know Nandi, the biggest and oldest manta ray in the aquarium, is swooping down, doing feeding loops within inches of me. She opened her mouth wide, used the scooping action of her cephalic lobes and was filter feeding on all of the food that I was detaching from the rock work for her. Once or twice, her fin ran right into me. At times I had to stop, look around once in a while just so I wouldn’t miss her amazing beauty and grace as she flew through the water just inches from me. This is why I love being a volunteer diver at the Georgia Aquarium! After helping to clean some of the acrylic I surfaced with exactly 500psi.

So yes, we’re scrubbing, and cleaning the tank every time we dive, but it is great fun to observe how the fish interact with us and love the fact that we are keeping their environment so very clean. Apply this to your home aquarium! When you’re doing some of your routine maintenance observe how your pet fish interact with you, and how much your fish, plants, and invertebrates enjoy the benefits of a clean, healthy tank!

If you’d like more information about about how to become a volunteer SCUBA diver at an aquarium near you, sign up for our free Aquarium Tip Tank e-updates and news!

Thoughts or comments? Leave a reply below!


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Aquarium Tip Tank 002 | Selecting a Tank

Aquarium Tip Tank Podcast 002

In this episode of Aquarium Tip Tank we discuss 5 key tips to help you choose a tank for your aquarium. We talk about how to choose the correct location for your fish tank, and then get into construction, size, shape, and price. We even give a few tips about getting a FREE, or low cost, tank for your fish or reef aquarium! So sit back, relax, and join us on this wonderful aquarium journey!

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First Beluga Tank Dive

On Saturday I completed my first volunteer dive at the Georgia Aquarium in the Beluga Tank! Beluga Whales are cold water mammals, so this tank at the aquarium is kept at about 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, the tank was at 59 degrees. Brrrrr, that sounded really cold. I’m not yet dry suit certified, nor do they actually have dry suits for us, so I figured I would probably freeze and be giving the “I’m cold” sign at some point during my dive.

As it was my first dive in this tank, I had a  lot of questions to ask. Every tank does things a little bit differently and has equipment in a few different places. Luckily, I was informed that on my first dive in every tank I should go ahead and inform anybody and everybody that it is my first dive and ask a lot of questions. It’s not that people aren’t willing to help, it’s just that they think you know what you’re doing and where you’re going unless you ask. Everybody was very nice, and very helpful, and pointed me in all of the right directions to get my equipment and get all set up.

The tanks of air had already been brought over from Ocean Voyager (OV). I went and fitted myself for a BCD, wetsuit, boots, gloves, a hood, and grabbed some weights. I set all of my gear up, changed, and was ready to go. Today, I would be vacuuming.

The interesting thing about all of this is that it is a lot like the process of a water change in your home aquarium tank. This is a mammal only tank with no sessile invertebrates and all of the decorations are fake rock-work. We had 3 divers, and one would be using a scrubbing machine to get some of the algae and grime off of the rock-work, one diver would be doing some scrubbing by hand and wiping the acrylic viewing windows with a soft rag, and I would be vacuuming. Vacuuming is much like siphoning out the water during a water change in a home aquarium except for the fact that the tank is so huge that you need to be physically in the tank to get the job done. We had people on the surface that got the vacuum started, much like starting a siphon, and then I spent 40 minutes underwater with the large vacuum hose suctioning out all of the dirt, grime, and waste from the beluga whales and harbor seals.

Surprisingly, I was not really cold at all during this dive. A full 7mm wetsuit is provided, along with a hood, and boots. I also wear a rash guard underneath. It was great to be able to comfortably throw a tank on, jump in, and help take care of the belugas and harbor seals!

Dive notes:

Max depth: 23 feet.

Bottom time: 40 minutes.

PSI Start: 3100

PSI end: 1600

Temperature: 59 degrees Fahrenheit


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Some Thoughts on Marine Conservation

First, let me say that I am just offering my humble opinion here as an aquarium hobbyist. I will, admittedly, offer links with more information than I have enough time to sort through. However, I believe that this post itself is testimony to the fact that aquarium hobbyists may be in the forefront of the education and science about marine conservation and the ocean ecosystem.

Currently, there is legislation being proposed in Hawaii that is seeking to ban or regulate the marine aquarium trade. This legislation is seeking to close or regulate Hawaii’s marine aquarium fishery. Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) have put together a great website about the legislation in Hawaii at

My thoughts about marine and ocean conservation come from the fact that I am a SCUBA diver, home aquarium hobbyist, and volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium. Personally, when setting up my new marine aquarium I’m going to put every effort into finding livestock that has not been taken from the ocean. As a SCUBA diver, I dive so that I can see and enjoy the beautiful ecosystem that the ocean and it’s reefs provide and I want those animals to be there and remain there for all divers to enjoy. The Georgia Aquarium has a 4R Program. This stands for Rescue, Rehabilitation, Research, and Responsibility.

As a home aquarium hobbyist, selecting my livestock is the biggest issue. For corals and sessile invertebrates, I will try to find frags. Frags are fragments of corals that are delicately taken and kept alive so that they can be traded, sold for fairly  cheap, or donated to other reef aquarium hobbyists. There are too many frag trading websites to list here. You can also go to your local pet store that sells marine aquarium livestock and ask them about their frags, and if they will trade with you. There are several excellent ways to get beautiful sessile invertebrates for your to place in your marine aquarium that don’t involve taking anything out of the open oceans and off of natural coral reefs.

Finding marine fish is a little bit more difficult. After all, a fish can’t be fragged to successfully grow another fish. However, captive-bred fish are available. Captive-bred fish are generally better adapted to aquarium conditions and diet, and demanding to buy captive-bred fish keeps the collection pressure on wild populations to a minimum.

The main point to take away from all of this for the home aquarium hobbyist is to do your research about where your livestock is coming from. Try to find a conservation-minded dealer that offers captive-bred fish and aquacultured invertebrates. Second, keep your livestock healthy! If you keep killing your fish and invertebrates, and keep acquiring more, then you are taking those specimens from somewhere. If your unhealthy animals are captive-bred fish or aquacultured invertebrates, those specimens are being taken from the next aquarium hobbyist that might’ve wanted to care for those specimens in a healthy manner! If this occurs with wild specimens, then you keep taking from the beautiful, wild, open ocean ecosystem. Keep your water clean and keep your livestock healthy.

This is not to say that I believe that all marine aquarium fisheries should be banned from all collection. Regulated? Maybe in a way that involves true science and research rather than emotion and non-research based accusations. Also, some fish are very difficult to breed. Some fish have never been bred in captivity. Allowing aquarists to care for, observe, research, and study some of those animals may just end up being scientifically beneficial. Then, they will hopefully educate!


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First Saltwater Aquarium

Great article written here by Ethan Mizer. Some great thoughts on taking your next step and starting your first saltwater aquarium.

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Aquarium Tip Tank’s First Podcast!

Aquarium Tip Tank Podcast 001

This is the first episode of Aquarium Tip Tank! This episode starts with introductions, goes on to include some plans for the podcast and the web page, and features several reasons why owning a home aquarium is a wonderful, educational, and relaxing experience!

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First Volunteer OV Dive at GA Aquarium!!!

Today was my first volunteer dive in Ocean Voyager (OV) at the Georgia Aquarium! It has been a fairly long process since I began as a volunteer in 2008. The reason that I signed up to volunteer is because I wanted to SCUBA dive in the largest aquarium in the world, and with all of the wonderful fish that live there! I also love SCUBA diving and live in the Atlanta area. I could SCUBA dive in a lake OR…I could find a way to get into that aquarium. I figured, why not have a place to SCUBA dive on a regular basis, be able to practice all of the skills involved with SCUBA diving, get first class training, and help take care of some of the largest and most beautiful fish in the world!

I remember in 2008 when my girlfriend, now wife, and I were at the Beluga exhibit. There was a narrator teaching us about beluga whales and their environment. Inside the tank with the Belugas were two SCUBA divers cleaning the tank. I asked the narrator, “How do I go about SCUBA diving in the aquarium?” He said, “Start Volunteering.” Since then, it has taken me almost 4 years to get into the water!

You may be asking, “Why did it take so long?” Well, every SCUBA diver that visits the GA Aquarium ultimately wants to don gear and jump in! So, they require volunteers to put in a few hours of their time, and get some training in all of the galleries before they can apply for a volunteer spot behind the scenes. However, that’s not what took 4 years. They also want to make sure that the volunteer SCUBA divers know how to dive safely and responsibly. So, they require the divers to have logged several open water dives, and have several certifications for diving and first aid. I had only just earned my open water certification in 2007. Therefore, it took me a few years to complete all of the certifications and prerequisites out of the way. After all, I do have a day job.

I digress. Back to the dive! I’ve only done it twice, but lifting my left hand up, pushing the button to release all of the air out of my BCD and slipping below the surface of OV seems to always leave me speechless. It is there that I look around and see four whale sharks, four giant manta rays, spotted eagle rays, large-tooth saw fish, sand tiger sharks, leopard whip-tail rays, black blotched fan-tail rays, Goliath groupers, guitar fish, and many more that I am actually swimming with. I am enjoying their environment all at the same time. Millions of guests have enjoyed looking into their environment. I figure the least I can do is help maintain their beautiful ecosystem.

That’s right. Us volunteer divers do some of the dirty, but ultimately necessary tasks to help maintain the aquariums tanks and galleries. We descend with scrub brushes and hand towels to scrub the algae and grime off of the rockwork and clean the acrylic. The great part about this is that the harder you scrub, the closer Nandi will get. Nandi is one of the largest and oldest giant manta rays that we have in the Georgia Aquarium. She was saved from the grips of a shark net off the coast of South Africa.

The fact that I am performing some sort of labor while 30 feet under also leaves my mind as soon as we start swimming to the portion of rockwork that we are scrubbing that day. That is when Alice, the 23 foot female whale shark, swims right past my port giving me an up close look at all of her spots from head to tail. These creatures are some of the most beautiful and graceful that I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I’m here, and hopefully I can help.

A few log book type notes:

  • Max depth: 30 ft.
  • Water temp: 75 degrees F
  • Dive time: 58 minutes


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Welcome to the world of underwater ecosystems! This website is currently in the building process, but I invite you to enjoy that journey with me. The plan is to build the sight with freshwater aquarium tips, marine(saltwater) aquarium tips, fish facts, conservation news, and much more while simultaneously providing pod-casts, videos, and posts of all of my aquarium experiences. This will include, but not be limited to, a complete video series of my process of setting up a new aquarium. You will literally be able to follow right along on my journey of creating a beautiful marine ecosystem. I will also be sharing some of my experiences as a volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium. I volunteer in all of the aquariums exhibits and I am also a volunteer SCUBA diver. Come on in, enjoy the fun, and keep those fish healthy and happy!


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