CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – With the Nov. 17 opening of its newest exhibit — Tiny, But Mighty Important — the Tennessee Aquarium pushes further into the virtual frontier with a display employing holographs. Guests visiting the new exhibit will be able to watch a short presentation appearing to float in mid-air that illustrates the devastating impact that silt and erosion can have on freshwater ecosystems.
The imagery hovers in a kiosk over a bed of actual river rocks and is viewable from all angles. As the animation begins, viewers see a 3-D projection of life in a healthy stream, with fish laying eggs and aquatic insects crawling among the stones. Later, erosion from nearby hills sends silt into the water, clouding the scene, smothering the eggs and eventually causing the animal life to disappear.
The use of holographic technology in an aquarium setting is unprecedented, which should increase the impact it has on guests, says Jim Bowhall, the creative director and vice president of Atlanta-based production studio Magick Lantern, which created the animation sequence.
The holographic water quality display is just one component of the newly designed River Journey attraction, which replaces the Aquarium’s Barrens Topminnow lab exhibit. Guests couldn’t enter the previous exhibit, but the new space is fully explore-able and emphasizes education through interactivity.
Tiny, But Mighty Important focuses on the role humans play in water quality and celebrates the importance of animals such as shiners, darters and minnows. These miniscule fish inhabit Southeastern streams in greater diversity than anywhere else in the world and serve as “indicator species,” meaning their health can reflect that of the entire aquatic ecosystem.
As they enter the new exhibit, guests are greeted by a large screen with stunning, looping footage of Southeastern aquatic wildlife. Below the display, guests can select from a trio of videos documenting a young person’s pathway to a career in science, the work of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and a special message on the importance of small fish from aquatic ecologist Dr. Zeb Hogan, the host of “Monster Fish” on Nat Geo WILD.
Visitors also will be able to get an up close look at tanks exhibiting Barren’s Topminnows, interact with a rotating display that offers another simulation of silt in a waterway and read graphics discussing topics such as the negative impact of nonpoint source pollution such as urban and agricultural runoff.
By telling the story of freshwater life in such a novel fashion, the new exhibit will more effectively show guests that even small species can be hugely important, says Dr. Anna George, the Tennessee Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education.
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