At DEMA Show 2019, DeeperBlue.com stopped by the Georgia Aquarium booth to catch up with Chris Duncan, the aquarium’s senior scuba instructor.

We got the inside scoop on their new Aquatic Advocate program, their relationship with the Coral Restoration Foundation, what’s new for 2020, and of course, the Animal Planet show “The Aquarium,” now in its second season.

First on the docket, Aquatic Advocate, which coworker Mich tells us Chris was instrumental in bringing about. The Georgia Aquarium has long offered PADI manta and whale shark specialties to go along with their open and closed-circuit dive in the Ocean Voyager exhibit — and they still will. It’s an awesome way to enhance the experience, and it funnels proceeds into PADI’S Project AWARE. But the Aquarium is now rolling out their own in-house specialty education program designed to offer an even more educational look at particular species, and to turn Aquarium visitors into citizen scientists, building a bridge to keep them connected in the future.

Long after their dip in the tank, participants will receive updates on continuing research and conservation efforts for the species of their choice, and may be inspired to learn about another species, and another…and so on. Chris hopes the program will eventually go Aquarium-wide, expanding to include the other creatures house there, from penguins to beluga whales to sea otter.

The Aquatic Advocate program is super-fresh — they just got their final logos two days before DEMA Show 2019 — but promises to be a hit, channeling visitor dollars directly back into the research and conservation efforts of the Georgia Aquarium and inspiring a passion for the ocean in a new generation poised to protect it.

During a chat with the Coral Restoration Foundation on the DEMA Show floor, they mentioned that the Georgia Aquarium partners with them to provide support for their efforts to repropagate Florida’s imperiled coral populations. We had to ask our Aquarium insider for more details. Chris told us that the partnership has been carefully fostered by aquarium team member Kim Stone, and offers valuable research advantages to both groups.

Around six times a year, divers from the Georgia Aquarium travel to the Florida Keys to help collect coral sperm, which they bring back to the aquarium to foster into larvae, which they then return to their home waters. They also use their expertise and specialized equipment to make the most impact –“planting” up to 500 coral in a day with the help of rebreathers, for instance.

According to Chris:

“Coral is the foundation, right? And it’s depleting. (This is) two non-profits coming together for a common cause. Let’s grow some baby corals!”

After that, the conversation turned to the elephant-seal in the room: Georgia Aquarium’s exciting partnership with Animal Planet and Left/Right Productions who also produced the show “The Zoo.” To get footage of what goes on in the Ocean Voyager tank, Chris Duncan and his colleague Chris Miller get to dive in and capture the behaviors of the animals in their care. It’s challenging to get just the right shot, but after a successful first season, the topside crew has developed faith in the abilities of the two Chrises, asking them for ever more creative and innovative shots.

We get a lot of help from Backscatter,” Duncan says of yet another productive partnership. “We’re on the phone with them like three times a week. With the animals there’s no retake, so you have to make sure you’re in focus and all your settings are right the first time.

Chris likes that the show illuminates the day-to-day operations of the Aquarium, that it’s transparent about the good days and the bad days. He added:

“There’s a lot of stigma around aquariums, but our care of the animals is so high.”

And Animal Planet shows it all.

A final word about what’s going on at the facility — a new exhibit slated for 2020. As yet unnamed, Chris was able to tell us to expect sharks, and lots of them.

“It’s going to be a predator exhibit, playing on that fear/fascination dynamic.”

We as divers love sharks, but the new tank aims to hook those folks who may be more wary by giving them an up-close-and-personal look at these fascinating fish.

If you’re in the Atlanta area, don’t miss a visit, and if you’re not but want to lend your support, check out their website for more details.

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