Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy Students Visit The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - by Thom Benson

Less than a month after opening its freshwater research center, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) began acting on its mission of educational outreach by hosting a mentoring workshop with students from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy.

On Nov. 15, 11 students from CGLA visited TNACI’s state-of-the-art facility on the banks of the Tennessee River as part of a yearlong mentoring program with Tennessee American Water, one of the aquarium’s sponsors.

“I want the students to make a connection between us providing drinking water that comes from the river to organizations like the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the role they play in being a good steward of the watershed and educating the community about the importance of healthy rivers,” said Tennessee American Water external affairs manager Daphne Kirksey. “We’re also trying to broaden their view on career options, and seeing the labs here and meeting some of the scientists will help do that.”

TNACI scientists Dr. John Ennen and Dr. Bernie Kuhajda answered students’ questions and discussed the choices they made in school that led them into the field of aquatic biology. They also stressed the importance of effective communication and outreach efforts to the success of conservation programs.

Afterward, TNACI watershed educator Erin Durant took the students on a tour of the 14,000-square-foot facility, including the multi-purpose educational space as well as fully equipped genetics and morphology labs. Outside, students were shown how the building actively serves its conservation mission through architectural and landscaping choices such as a 6,000-gallon cistern employed for gray water use inside the building and the exclusive presence of non-invasive plants on the grounds.

TNACI will continue acting as a hub of inspiration for future generations of scientists in the coming months. On Jan. 28, 40 high school students from throughout the region are expected to visit the field station for the first annual Freshwater Youth Summit. TNACI director Dr. Anna George will deliver a keynote address. The students will meet with conservation leaders from the region, who will lead discussions about freshwater issues that threaten the Southeast’s treasure trove of aquatic biodiversity. Participants will then brainstorm ideas for conservation projects they will help put into action in their own communities.

“It’s important to imprint upon them that this richness is in their backyard and part of their heritage and then equip them to do something to protect it,” Ms. Durant said. “That's a huge part of our mission — to mentor the next generation of freshwater scientists.”

The summit will last from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mandatory pre-registration is $20 and can be completed at  Each student will receive lunch and a swag bag with reusable items as part of their admission packet.

High school teachers interested in leveraging TNACI’s new facility or its scientists to enhance their curriculums can contact Durant at .

For more information about TNACI, its new facility and its conservation initiatives, visit

Follow the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute on social media via or

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