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Giant Turtle King Mydas
King Mydas swims the Gulf of Mexico exhibit at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (Photo by Marissa Hall | Shale Plays Media)

New Orleans aquarium features mock oil rig display

I am an aquarium person. I used to think I should be a marine biologist, up until the point where I realized that biology—or any science for that matter—was not my forte. But I feed that small part of myself by visiting aquariums in major cities that I visit.

So here I am in New Orleans, and obviously I had to take a trip to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, part of the Audubon Nature Institute.

I am the type of traveler who doesn’t necessarily map out her free time. I instead do a lot of meandering, and it has never led me astray. Keeping with this tradition, I stumbled upon the aquarium yesterday, although it had unfortunately closed by the time I found it. So I made a point to come back for Halloween.

The aquarium has a splendid array of displays. Over the course of just a couple of hours, I found myself in Amazon rainforests, Mayan reefs, and the Gulf of Mexico. I got to touch some stingrays (slimier than you might expect) and had a lovely moment with a green moray eel.

Green Moray Eel at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (Photo by Marissa Hall | Shale Plays Media)

Green Moray Eel at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (Photo by Marissa Hall | Shale Plays Media)

For most of my visit, the aquarium was largely what I expected. The Mississippi River exhibit was sponsored by ConocoPhillips, which I thought was neat. But what I didn’t see coming was the Gulf of Mexico exhibit. In a 17-foot, 400,000-gallon tank stood a mock oil rig. Swimming in its midst were schools of fish, sting rays, three different types of sharks, and a massive green sea turtle which I later discovered was lovingly named King Mydas (“We call him King Mydas for a reason,” said Linnea, the woman who presented the Gulf Talk I happened upon. “He’s king of this tank.”)

When it comes to oil and gas in the news industry, and particularly in the Gulf, it can sometimes be so difficult to come across positive stories about the companies that—more often than not—keep us moving. So when I saw that the Gulf of Mexico exhibit was sponsored by not one but FIVE major oil companies (BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Kerr McGee) and a major businessman in the industry, I was very pleasantly surprised.

The exhibit highlights the ways in which oil rigs can actually benefit the ecosystem. Although the rigs are never meant to be permanent. “But platforms create underwater habitats for marine life—and good fishing—that are lost when platforms are removed,” an exhibit sign reads. Not only do the platforms draw shrimp, fish, and other sorts of marine life, but they also draw fisherman who have learned to monopolize on “rig fishing.”

mock oil rig underwater structure

Mock oil rig’s underwater structure (Photo by Marissa Hall | Shale Plays Media)

The Gulf Talk, which walked the audience through the feeding of the creatures within, was a great opportunity to learn more about the types of marine life that occupy the waters of the Gulf. Linnea did a wonderful job of informing the audience about the feeding process. After the talk, I had the opportunity to speak with Linnea and another employee, Tom, about their experience in the aquarium and the inner workings of the Gulf of Mexico tank.

All 400,000 gallons of salt water in the Gulf exhibit—which is man-made at the aquarium—are filtered through every 90 minutes, meaning that the water stays perfectly clean for its inhabitants. Larger than any of the other tanks in the aquarium, the exhibit requires the most filters, and I was fortunate enough to be given a behind-the-scenes, glass-free view of the sand filters.

As I observed the exhibit, its inhabitants, the Gulf Talk, and the filters that keep everything clean, I couldn’t help but imagine the immense amount of funds each sponsor must of have had to give to the Audubon Nature Institute that show their commitment to education and the environment in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you find yourself in New Orleans, I would highly recommend making a trip to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. It is incredibly worth it.

Watch Haynesville.com for more stories from Louisiana as Shale Plays Media writer Marissa Hall unfolds stories from her trip to Louisiana’s oil and gas country.