It’s OK to Touch: National Aquarium’s Living Seashore Exhibit Goes to the Beach

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IMG_0815 2With a new exhibit, the National Aquarium is looking to help Marylanders get in touch with the habitat that’s underfoot at the shore. 

 

“There’s incredible natural history events happening right in our backyard,” said Jack Cover, General Curator of the Aquarium.

Living Seashore, which officially opens in May, has a variety of ways to deliver that message.

The exhibit leads aquarium-goers in with a placid dune habitat. With no blanket to lie on or ocean to stare at, the exhibit puts the American beech grass and seaside goldenrod squarely in focus. It’s fragile vegetation, Cover points out, and needs to be protected.

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Then there are interactive digital tools designed to show what’s harmful to the shoreline. Visitors can get badges for encouraging conservation, and even have chance to link up with a volunteer project when they got done. A little etiquette lesson wouldn’t hurt either, Cover said.

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One message he hopes to impart: If you find a horseshoe crab, it wouldn’t be to that horseshoe crab’s benefit to be carried around by its tail.”

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It’s one thing to say that meassage, or communicate it visually. But the Aquarium drives the point home, as the visitors come face-to-face with a horseshoe crab. Not only can visitors look, but they can touch.

And crabs aren’t the only species swimming.

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Stingrays glide around the touch pool, having had their stingers safely removed. Eventually, skates will join them. Two museum staffers will be stationed at either side to encourage one-on-one conversation. The Aquarium hopes that helps people retain what they learn. It might even help the truth get out about one of the most-feared beach creatures.

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Cover acknowledges that people “immediately freak out” when they see moon jellies. So, they’re putting a full colony in one place to prove that there’s nothing to fear. “Your skin protects you from a sting,” Cover said.

 

In touching a stingray or a jellyfish, Cover hopes people will have a memorable experience. That could inspire them to take a closer look at the natural world. After all, you never know what’s hiding in the sand.

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