Several years ago, Dean Gallagher transferred to Volcanoes National Park as a park ranger and visited Fuku-Bonsai. We discussed the Red Hawaiian Anchialine Pond Shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) aka "opae'ula" aka "The Amazing Hawaiian Micro-Lobster!"  In the years since, I met Dean several times and each time he told me of plans to create an exhibit at the visitor center and I volunteered to help in any way possible.

            On June 3, 2011 I got an email from Dean that the project had begun and requested a "volcano landscape."  I agreed but asked to install it.  With both of us having hectic schedules we got a chance to meet on Wednesday, June 15, first at the park visitor center, then at his home.  I was delighted, impressed, pleased, but very challenged!  This clearly was not going to be a slam dunk! Unlike my projects,  an exhibit at a national park is a major undertaking with a lot of planning, formal approvals at each step,  and many decisions already made that limited what I could do.

          At his home I was impressed with Dean's initial set-up which included a captive breeding unit that was more functional rather than being designed for aesthetics.  The challenge was to transfer it to the larger unit at the visitor center and create the aquascape to blend with an actual underwater scene taken of a pond in the park in which algae changed the black lava to resemble coral!

          The beautiful photograph had been taken by Dr. Scott Santos who had also assisted Fuku-Bonsai. The photo had been approved as the background so it was necessary to modify my black lava formation to resemble a coral-like scene.  I had a little over a week to plan and install to stay on their schedule.

The tank is a 5-gallon Pyrex glass unit. Dean's breeder unit had a plexiglass top, light and air.




          On June 25th disassembly of Dean's captive breeding set-up began at 8AM and completed in two hours with all 183 opae'ula in a bagged container, and 5-gallon pails containing: 1) The coral-like rocks with algae growth. 2) Interior rocks with no algae. 3)  Water with accumulated debris.  Other containers included clean water that had been mixed with Dean's original tank water.  Left behind were his original Pyrex tank (note temperature gauge), bottom sand, breeding plastic wire basket, etc.

          In Dean's other squarish Fluval tank on the left, he grew Taiwanese freshwater dwarf shrimp (Neocaridina hetropoda)  to better understand the unique traits of the endemic opae'ula.  While attractive and fully landscaped, it does not depict a typical anchialine pond scene.  The Taiwan shrimp are easily bred but short-lived, less attractive, and largely inactive.






      The photo taken after disassembling the unit and separating the components to be utilized in the visitor center display.


          The exhibit was off the main lobby just inside the entrance to the interpretive exhibits. The sign: "New Hawaiian pond shrimp exhibit under construction. Opening date: July 5, 2011."

          The nine gallon cylinder was installed on supports and the background photograph attached. The base of the aquascape would be black to reflect the original lava strata and blend in with the rocks in the sunken triangle area.







        The visitor center is between 4,000' to 5,000' elevation and it gets cold. Dean's tank at home used a heater to maintain temperatures between 70F and 74F and; having worked well, a similar heater was installed. The water level would blend with the photograph. At the start of the installation, the back-ground photo was attached temporarily, water cycled, and the unit well aerated.  It was a surprise to learn that the Halepe anchialine pond had a bacterial crust that gave it the appearance of a coral reef.  My aquascapes were of black lava and it was too late to make and cure another! The only viable solution was to create a hybrid scene.

       The situation required extensive modification of a black lava formation that I already had as there just was not enough time to custom create and cure a new design. Our goal was to create an illusion that the tank was rising up and out of the triangular base area to give the viewer a unique close-up view of an underwater scene. The water was already cycled and salinity adjusted.

        Aquascaping a 13" diameter cylinder requires a lot of planning to create interesting topographical variations.  Cylinders have a magnifying effect and there was limited room to create the conditions that encourage opae'ula to show their natural active swimming habits.  I appreciated that Dean informed me that my selection was based upon my knowledge and skills and that I was given maximum creative leeway. On that basis I began.

        The modification flattened surfaces so coral-like rocks would cover much of the top of the aquascape to blend into the photograph. Within the front 3" and from left to the center, I created a "cliff and flow scene." By keeping the cliff in black lava,  the visual flow of the coral-like rocks allowed more of the background photo to show on the right to give the illusion of the edge of a reef. 






     All landscapes are interpretations with artistic license to enhance interest and aesthetics. Within 13" I tried to create a varied close-up to blend and compliment the photo's horizontal panoramic scene.

     Dean checked on me often and we finished together by bringing the water to the desired planned level and adjusted the air to the minimum non-distracting rate.  We introduced the opae'ula and they immediately disappeared into the aquascape. They had gone through a lot and it was with a great sense of relief that they slowly reappeared, began exploring their new home with a few adventurous ones starting to swim laps! Water tends to be a bit murky right after an installation but will clear in 24 hours.

      It was a unique experience installing an exhibit in a visitor center that gets over a million visitors each year. It was constantly crowded. A few visitors knew of me from having made contact or purchased units in the past. There was a lot of interest and many questions. 








       There had been comprehensive study and I was impressed with their efforts and the rapid learning curve of Dean's project development team. This was the first exhibit in the park to include live creatures so extensive research and efforts were invested to try to insure success.  They will be installing the interpretive exhibits and landscaping at the base next. My role was the latest step in the project and I'm  looking forward to the July 5, 2011 evening at the park event where I'll be able to meet the others in Dean's team and see the completed exhibit. 

        Dr. Scott Santos will be the featured speaker at the July 5 evening event.  He is a native of Maui,  an assistant professor at Auburn University, and the premier opae'ula authority with specialty in DNA study. For more information, go to www.fukubonsai.com/M-L8c.html






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