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Fishy Business at the Base Camp Café

Written by guest blogger, Dan Divelbiss, one of the masterminds behind the Zoo’s aquaponics system.

“Waste” does not exist in nature.  All our furred, feathered, and finned friends don’t take a trash can out to the curb each week to watch their undesirables go “away”.  Instead nature has a plan for every scrap and left-over.  As we learn from nature, we too can begin to apply this concept to our lives.  If you were recently walking past the Base Camp Café on your way to Africa, you may have noticed a greenhouse filled with water, fish, and plants.  This is the Zoo’s newest effort synergize with nature’s design ethic: Aquaponics!

The aquaponics system in the Zoo's Greenhouse made possible by the Woodward Family Charitable Foundation.

The aquaponics system in the Zoo’s Greenhouse made possible by the Woodward Family Charitable Foundation.

Simply stated, aquaponics is growing fish to eat (aquaculture) and vegetables (hydroponics) together, where wastes from the fish are food for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. In this controlled environment, yields are high and reliable. Aquaponics systems range from simple, tabletop systems consisting of little more than goldfish and a few sprigs of basil to elaborate, commercial scale systems which employ many people and produce tons of food annually.  This particular aquaponics system in the Greenhouse was designed to show how folks can build their own family-scale, aquaponic garden from materials available at local hardware/landscaping stores.

This system consists of a fish tank, two grow beds for vegetables, a pump, an aerator, solids filter, and a biofilter.  Water flows through the system continuously in a closed-loop allowing nutrients and water to be cycled and recycled.  If this system were meant to accommodate a higher fish density (aka more “waste” producers in the same space), it would require a few more components.  However, this system with a low fish population and extensive biofiltration doesn’t require them.

Fish are housed in a tank. Water from the fish tank is pumped through solids removal and into a biofilter, where the fish waste is converted by bacteria from ammonia (possibly toxic to fish) into nitrates (non-toxic to fish) that can be used by plants. The water flows downhill from the biofilter into growing trays. Plants grow in beds of gravel or expanded clay (which also acts as an additional biofilter), or they are floated on the water in a floating raft.  After the water passes through a network of plant roots, it is returned, cleansed, to the fish tank. All through the process, air is pumped into the system to ensure plenty of oxygen for the fish, beneficial bacteria, and plants.  Each day the fish are fed and their excrement supplies the nutrients necessary for plant growth.

The current plants growing in the aquaponics system include basil, cucumber, and tomato. Each day, our SSA chefs harvest what they need for catering and restaurant meals, staying true to their commitment to providing our guests food that is as fresh and as local possible. For example, your caprese salad features basil grown in the Greenhouse, and picked just before it is tossed in your salad.

SSA Chef Brian harvests basil from the greenhouse for the first time.

SSA Chef Brian harvests basil from the greenhouse for the first time.

If you’d like to learn more about aquaponics, stop by the Zoo and check out this new exhibit next to the Base Camp Café. The Greenhouse was made possible by the Woodward Family Charitable Foundation.

Clockwise from bottom: Kevin Savage, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy; Adam Wyman, Elements Pro; Scott Beuerlein, Zoo Horticulture; Dan Divelbiss, Waterfields LLC.

Clockwise from bottom: Kevin Savage, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy; Adam Wyman, Elements Pro; Scott Beuerlein, Zoo Horticulture; Dan Divelbiss, Waterfields LLC.

Dan Divelbiss, MS is the managing member of Waterfields, LLC, an urban agriculture development company focusing on bringing commercial aquaponics to the urban core to create living wage jobs, revitalize communities, and sell to Cincinnati’s local food market.  Learn more at www.waterfieldsllc.com

August 28, 2013   4 Comments

Saving Tigers

Today is Global Tiger Day. What would the world be like without tigers? The Zoo partners with other zoos on a Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) so we never have to find out.  In addition to maintaining a healthy tiger population in zoos, the Tiger SSP supports field research and conservation of tigers in the wild through the Tiger Conservation Campaign.

Malayan Tiger (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Malayan Tiger (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

As consumers, we all have the power to protect wildlife by using the Sustainable Shopper app to choose products made with Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.  Palm oil is used in many of the foods and products we consume every day from frozen vegetables to shampoo. Oil palm plantations are spreading across Indonesia, which produces 85% of the world’s supply of palm oil, often to the detriment of its rainforests and wildlife. As consumers, we can choose to buy products made with sustainable palm oil as certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The Sustainable Shopper app connects you with more than 500 products manufactured by RSPO-certified companies.

To get the Sustainable Shopper app:

From your web-enabled phone, go to cincinnatizoo.org/sustainable-shopper OR scan this QR code with your preferred QR code reader.

 To use the Sustainable Shopper app:
  • Select “Go Shopping” from the main menu.
  • Select “Edible” or “Non-edible” from the main products menu.
  • Select the appropriate sub-category until you locate your product.



July 29, 2013   2 Comments

Advanced Inquiry Program: Not Your Ordinary Graduate School

Guest blogger:

How many people can say they have to walk through a rainforest to get to their grad school classes?  Imagine starting your day with the sounds of gibbons greeting you, followed by a variety of birds, elephants and possibly even the beautiful display of a peacock.  This is all right before you pass the striking blue and gold macaw and sloth – and you didn’t even get to class yet.  This is how my Master of Arts in Zoology started as part of the Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly at the Cincinnati Zoo.

My name is Crissi Lanier, and I am set to graduate in December. By day, I am currently the Assistant Coordinator and Toddler Teacher at the Children’s Center at the College of Mount St. Joseph.  This degree was perfect because it has taught me new topics to focus on and projects for work, as well as how to educate the families I work with about our world.  The kids and parents all get very excited and love to be part of new things and it’s very rewarding to be part of that experience. The toddlers also get very excited to visit the Zoo to see their animal “friends” that we talk about and show photos of in class.

My classmates and I (that's me in the bottom row wearing a white and green shirt) meeting the elephants

My classmates and I (that’s me in the bottom row wearing a white and green shirt) meeting the elephants

AIP is incredibly unique, focusing on the use of inquiry in learning and educating others about conservation and social change.  The 2 ½ year program combines online classes with on-site classes at one of the seven participating zoos across the country.  There’s even an option to take an Earth Expeditions class out of the country in places like Kenya or Borneo.  The program begins with a full week of classes in June to introduce the program, class and zoo campus. It includes meeting new people and animals, taking zoo tours and doing fun inquiry work with classmates.

This program is for anyone in any profession.  The classes focus on a variety of topics such as the carbon footprint, primate conservation, biodiversity and human-wildlife conflict.  What the program does even more is educate the students about the world in which they live in order to educate those around them, whether it is in a formal setting like a kindergarten classroom or informally writing children’s books.Through this program, I have met an elephant and a potto in person, learned the difference between a bonobo and chimpanzee, spoke with the woman who led the reintroduction of blue and gold macaws into their native Trinidad, been a student leader of an online class, learned the history of the Cincinnati Zoo and many other varied lessons.  The classes and instructors expect high levels of quality work. My eyes have been opened to the world I’ve spent the past 32 years living in.

Internships are part of the program and this summer I have the incredible opportunity to intern at the Zoo with Shasta Bray.  She is the Interpretive Media Manager and focuses on various interpretive aspects of the Zoo from signage at exhibits to website pages on the animals that call the Zoo home.  My focus throughout the program has been the use of imagery to help people connect with animals, so I’m very excited about this opportunity.  A summer internship at the Zoo is something I only dreamed about before, but with this program, it’s become a reality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the staff at the Cincinnati Zoo, it’s that they all truly love their jobs and the animals they care for.  This is evident in everything they do and every conversation I’ve had with anyone.  One important part of AIP at the Cincinnati Zoo is Cory Christopher.  Amongst other titles he holds, Cory runs the graduate program.  He is a leader, advisor, tour guide, instructor, plant genius and supporter.  Cory sees the bigger picture and challenges his students to pursue the bigger picture, whether it is creating nature programs for the elderly, composting in local schools or producing radio shows discussing evolution.  He is a walking example of inquiry, asking us to observe, question and look further beyond what is in front of us.

Over the last two years, I’ve been inspired, encouraged, challenged, continuously educated and motivated to act and not sit passively on the sidelines.  There’s never been a day I didn’t want to attend class or been excited to share what I had learned.  To say the least, this program has changed my life.  If you’re inspired or interested in learning more about the AIP program, I encourage you check it out. You won’t regret it!

June 13, 2013   3 Comments