The next time you're gazing at the sharks, turtles, fish and rays swimming around the Florida Aquarium's crystal-clear tanks, take a minute to consider how all that saltwater gets there. Though the Ybor Channel is just a stone's throw away, it takes a carefully orchestrated routine involving barges, aqueducts, filters and pumps to move it from far out in the gulf to the aquarium's tanks.
On Wednesday, the aquarium offered a glimpse of the process:
What: 300,000 gallons of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico are delivered to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa every other month for use in the attraction's exhibits.
Who: Mosaic Fertilizer in Mulberry donates the use of two of its barges, which pump seawater into their ballast tanks for the aquarium during return trips to Tampa after picking up molten sulphur, a component used in making fertilizer, at ports in Texas and Louisiana.
How: The 418.3-foot barge Alafia takes on the aquarium-bound water when it's about 100 miles outside of Tampa in about 10,000 feet of water. Upon arrival in Tampa's port, the Alafia ties up next to the World War II-era Victory Ship behind the aquarium. The water is then pumped from the barge to holding tanks next to the aquarium through a series of (sometimes leaky) pipes in a process taking up to four hours.
The saltwater is then circulated through something similar to a giant pool filter, which uses sand, activated carbon and ozone, for three to four days. Once it's been tested for purity by the aquarium's biologists, the raw seawater is pumped to a 1,000-gallon tank on the roof of the facility. It is then gravity-fed through a maze of pipes inside the aquarium and tapped by biologists to replenish evaporated water in the attraction's tanks as needed.
Bottom line: Mosaic estimates the cost, in terms of time, staffing and fuel, for hauling the aquarium water is about $10,000 a trip, six times a year. The fertilizer company has been donating its services for three and a half years; for about 11 years before that, TECO provided the service.
Aquarium officials say its ability to use natural saltwater rather than having to create it from city water and salt, as most aquariums do, saves not only a precious fresh water resource, but also more than $400,000 annually.
Kris Hundley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2996.