Three new marine animals are now in residence at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center for the public to see. The new aquarium exhibit allows visitors to safely observe moon jellies that are commonly found in local waters.
Dave Graff, an education specialist for Rookery Bay Research Reserve, introduced the exhibit to the Learning Center to help educate visitors about these unique creatures that are not often viewed in such close proximity.
“Displaying moon jellies in this tank can help visitors gain an appreciation for the beauty of these animals that they once feared,” Graff said.
Although these jellies can grow to the size of a large dinner plate, they are considered plankton because they drift through the ocean along with the current. The new circular jelly tank is designed to keep the planktonic animals suspended in the water column, and it also includes specialized lighting that illuminates the animal’s iridescent bodies in soft color as they glide through the water.
Through the new exhibit, visitors can appreciate the graceful pulses of the moon jellies as they move and feed. The ring of tentacles dangling below the jellies create a stunningly beautiful, flowing curtain that stings and entraps any tiny animal that they bump into. However, contrary to common misconceptions, moon jelly stings are relatively mild to human skin.
Moon jellies can be found in waters from the Caribbean all the way up to Maine, and are seasonally abundant in Rookery Bay. Now they can be seen up close in the Learning Center.
The Environmental Learning Center is open 9 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Friday, with Saturday hours October through April. The two-story visitor center features educational films, an art gallery, gift shop and a nature trail with a viewing platform. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids 6 – 12, and free for children under 6 and Friends of Rookery Bay members. The Learning Center is located at 300 Tower Road, one mile south of the intersection of US 41 and Collier Boulevard.
Renee Wilson is Communications Coordinator at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. She has been a Florida resident since 1986, and joined the staff at the Reserve in 2000.