The Russell Aquatic Center at the Gladys Porter Zoo is all about the aquatic habitats of South Texas and the animals and plants that live there. Some of the exhibits feature naturally occurring habitats, such as the open ocean, resacas, sea grass beds and mangroves, while other exhibits display man made habitats such as jetties and piers.
The 30,000 gallon Deep Water Exhibit is the largest exhibit in the Aquatic Center – six feet deep with a footprint of 26 feet by 26 feet. This exhibit will house representatives of the larger marine fish and invertebrates commonly found in the bay and near shore waters, such as red snapper, black drum, sandtrout, sheepshead, spadefish, snook, lookdowns, jacks, orange spotted filefish, pufferfish, giant red hermit crabs and of course everyone’s favorite – sharks!
A rehabbed sea turtle on loan from Sea Turtle, Inc. will make the 2,800 gallon Ancient Mariners Exhibit its home. Fish commonly found living in and around South Texas jetties will also make it their home, such as snappers, mullet, pompano, sergeant majors and blennies.
The Freshwater Giants Exhibit will feature the fish, plants and reptiles found in the resacas of South Texas, including alligator gar, spotted gar, Rio Grande cichlids, catfish, bass, softshell turtles and snapping turtles.
Most of the marine habitats in South Texas have sandy or muddy bottoms, however, there are a few rocky reefs such as the 7 ½ Fathom Reef near Corpus Christi. In this exhibit, you will find many of the colorful fish often associated with coral reefs such as angelfish, damselfish, butterflyfish and moray eels.
Fiddler crabs will be displaying their large claws in the 400 gallon Mangrove Exhibit that they will share with terrapins and smaller fish commonly found in mangroves. This includes sheepshead minnows, killifish, cowfish, burrfish and the young of many species including redfish, snappers and jacks.
The open ocean is represented by the Keppel AmFELS Ghostly Jellyfish Exhibit, which features . . . you guessed it . . . moon jellies (and yes, you can call them jellyfish if you prefer – as long as you understand that they are not actually fish!). In addition, a variety of smaller exhibits will be scattered around the Aquatic Center, which will allow us to display animals that tend to get lost in the larger exhibits, such as seahorses, octopus, sea robins, stargazers, live shrimp, crabs and live snails.
And finally, the Stingray Touch Tank, crowning glory of the Aquatic Center, will house a variety of local stingrays, cownose rays, southern rays and Atlantic rays. Visitors will be able to touch these animals. Hopefully, in the near future during designated times, visitors will be able to purchase food to feed the rays once they become acclimated and more comfortable in their surroundings.
The Russell Aquatic Ecology Center will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. There is no additional fee to enter the center.
Thanks to all the donors and partners that made the exhibit possible: Russell Family, Frank Boggus – Boggus Ford Auto Group, Keppel AmFELS, Richard & Elka Jaross Family, ESCO Marine, Rotary Club of Brownsville, Captain Murphy’s Fishing Charters, C.J. Mire and Moody Gardens, Sea World and Landry’s Downtown Aquarium.