Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, SC

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, SC



Our FIRST post to kick off the launch of Behind The Glass comes from Jen Rawlings at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, South Carolina. Thank you so much Jen for answering these questions and being our first article! Photos courteous of Jen Rawlings.

Q: How many different species do you have in your aquarium galleries?

A: Our Aquarium has over 75 species each of fishes and aquatic invertebrates (so over 150 species in our collection).


Q: How were the four gallery display themes chosen?

A: Each of galleries represents a geographical area or theme. Our South Carolina gallery contains freshwater displays of native fishes. Our Tropical Habitat is a rainforest habitat that houses South American freshwater fishes. Our Coral Reef Gallery is home to all marine tropicals, including large and small fish and especially invertebrates such as sea stars, crabs, jellies, and corals. The Rocky Shores gallery is our cold marine species gallery, and actually represents several types of habitats (kelp forest, deep sea, temperate Australian coast). Finally, our Sandy Shores gallery exhibits both South Carolina saltmarsh and offshore habitats. Each of these gallery themes was chosen just to showcase the diversity of life found not only here in our state, but world-wide.

Plumose Anemone exhibit in the Rocky Shores Gallery


Q: Which species is your oldest living at the aquarium?

A: We have a small handful of fishes that have been at the Aquarium since it opened in 1989. Included in this list are: Painted triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus), Black durgeon (Melichthys niger), Six bar angel (Pomocanthus sexstriatus), and Pacu (Colossoma macropomum).


Q: What is the most unique aspect of your aquarium area?

A: Our collection is extremely diverse, especially for such a small Aquaruim within a zoo. It’s fascinating to have the opportunity to work with so many different marine and freshwater species.


Q: What types of diving demonstrations do you show visitors?

A: Each day, we have a feeding demonstration in our Indo-Pacific Reef Exhibit. The diver feeds the fish, including hand-feedings for our benthic sharks and eels. During the dive, an interpreter explains about the fishes’ behavior, feeding regimes, habitat, and conservation. Also, as part of our program, we always talk about sustainable seafood and how our visitors can learn to be a voice for the ocean through the choices they make at grocery stores and restaurants. Riverbanks is an associate partner with the Seafood Watch program.


Jen Rawlings diving in our 55,000 gallon Indo-Pacific Reef Tank.


 Q: I noticed that the Riverbanks Zoo has an extensive education program. Can you tell me about any that focus on aquatic environments?

A: We celebrate World Oceans Day annually in June. We also do behind-the-scenes tours in our Aquarium area to show guests about our operations, including quarantine and coral propogation. We also incorporate Aquarium tours and activities throughout the week during our summer camps.


World Oceans Day 2012

Q: How was The Great Turtle Migration project started?

A: This was our first year doing the Great Turtle Migration project. This came about as a result of the conservation work we are doing with sea turtles in the country of Suriname (South America). For several years, staff members have travelled to Suriname to assess the viability of doing long-term conservation work in-situ. Last year, we were able to partner with the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and Surinamese biologists to conduct sea turtle nest monitoring, obtain morphometric data on nesting turtles, and satellite tag these turtles. Our inaguaral year was successful, so we returned this year to collect more data and tag even more turtles. The game was developed as a way to have students (both in the US and in Suriname) engaged with the movements of these satellite-tagged turtles and learn more about their movement patterns and general biology. We hope we can continue to offer the tracking game annually. The information we are gathering during our incountry time is being used to inform local biologists who are working to conserve sea turtles within Suriname. They are learning how to collect this data themselves, and use the information to make decisions about beach habitats as well as how to address the larger problem of offshore commercial fishing (turtles as bycatch).


Q: How many years has the Riverbanks Zoo done this project?

A: see above


Q: What is one of the most valuable things learned from doing The Great Turtle Migration?

A: see above

2 staff members with a nesting leatherback sea turtle


Staff member collecting morphometric data from a nesting leatherback sea turtle.



Leatherback sea turtle hatchlings.

Q: What is your personal favorite aspect of the aquarium area at the zoo?

A: I’m a “fish head” by nature, so I love it all! But, if I had to pick one thing, I would say it’s just knowing that what we do here can inspire others to care about nature. We work hard to have the healthiest animals in beautiful displays, but it’s all create a sense of wonder and awe in our visitors, and for them to desire to engage in conservation actions on their own to create a brighter future.