Omaha zoo's aquatics curator cultivates coral at work and worldwide - Momaha.com

BLOGS

Heidi Woodard: Help! I have the mentality of an 82-year old Heidi Woodard: Help! I have the mentality of an 82-year old
No offense to any octogenarians out there. I’m just not ready to be you yet.
Dr. Tricia Schmit: 9 ideas for a healthier Easter basket Dr. Tricia Schmit: 9 ideas for a healthier Easter basket
So, here we are, staring at Easter already and... more candy.
How I Do It: Personal trainer-mom pushes herself and others, all with a smile How I Do It: Personal trainer-mom pushes herself and others, all with a smile
She intended to work with children, but her love for health and fitness ultimately took over her career ambitions.
Jacqueline Baez-Leonard: Sometimes being a good parent means less talking, more listening Jacqueline Baez-Leonard: Sometimes being a good parent means less talking, more listening
"Mom, what’s a lesbian? ... Someone at school called me one, and I want to know what it is."
Claire Flatowicz: Spring Cleaning: Signs it’s time to toss your clothes Claire Flatowicz: Spring Cleaning: Signs it’s time to toss your clothes
It’s time to dust off those shelves that never see a dust rag, clean out those kitchen cabinets and my clothes closet.
How I Do It: Working mom Nadira Ford-Robbins How I Do It: Working mom Nadira Ford-Robbins
The 28-year-old dishes on discipline, sacrifices (fewer shoes) and her well-mannered 1-year-old.

Entertainment - Moms


Mitch Carl, left, and Charles Delbeek, assistant curator of the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, set up kreisels for a SECORE workshop in Guam.




Omaha zoo's aquatics curator cultivates coral at work and worldwide

Mitch Carl may live in landlocked Omaha, but he's committed to saving creatures that live in seas and oceans.

“Coral's kind of my thing,” said Carl, curator of aquatics at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium and a member of the zoo and aquarium advisory board of SECORE, an organization dedicated to saving coral around the world.

MITCH CARL
Age: 40

Education: Graduate of Burke High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Family: Wife, Jena; children are twins, Gwen and Avery, 10, and Sara, 7

What he does: Curator of aquatics at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium; member of SECORE

Many people don't realize that coral is a living organism, so part of Carl's job in Omaha is educating visitors to the Scott Aquarium at the zoo about this interesting creature and its many species.

Outside of the zoo, the 40-year-old aquarist travels the world to study corals and to work on projects designed to save them.

Corals are dying out at an alarming rate for both man-made reasons — over-fishing, overzealous harvesting, sea pollution, deforestation and development runoff, sedimentation — and natural causes such as hurricanes.

For Carl, it started as a hobby — collecting freshwater fish at 12 or 13 led to a job in a pet store. While working at Animal Talk Pet Center during college he developed a liking for saltwater fish and corals. He set up his first coral tank at home about this time.

He took a scuba diving class during his first semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he studied biology, graduating in 1996. He became a volunteer scuba diver at the zoo in 1997 and a few months later was hired as an aquarist there.

At the time he was hired, coral-saving was in its infancy, Carl said .

Kathy Vires, his supervisor at the time, let him run with his ideas on working with corals. He built tanks at the zoo and began raising corals. Carl became aquarist supervisor at the zoo in 2008 and aquatics curator in 2009.

About a decade ago, he heard about SECORE (Sexual Coral Reproduction) and the work of Dirk Peterson of the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands. Carl joined SECORE in 2005 to work with Peterson, who now is president of SECORE's board of directors.

In 2006, Carl went to Puerto Rico, where about 98 percent of the coral had died out. One reason is stress-induced disease. Another is the fact that the coral spawns (releases eggs and sperm) in a small space of time, usually only a couple of hours on one specific day.

Cultivating coral has called for persistence and ingenuity, Carl said, adding that the SECORE teams have used everything from ladies' slips to salad bowls as scientific instruments.

“The first year, we didn't know what we were doing,” Carl said. “It was trial and error.”

Carl and others brought coral eggs and sperm back to their respective institutions to see if they could sexually reproduce larvae. The Omaha zoo was the only success story in the first two years of the experiment, but the zoo has gone back mostly to asexual reproduction, Carl said.

So far SECORE members have reintroduced about 100 corals in the Caribbean, Carl said. “We are hoping to now ramp up the numbers with the techniques that we've come up with.”

Other countries have begun asking for the organization's help. SECORE has expanded and, as a result, Carl has traveled extensively. His most recent trip took him to the coral spawning area of Guam, which started its Coral Reef Initiative in 2011.

Omaha's zoo sponsored the SECORE workshop there in 2013 and will again this year and in 2015. Other workshops have been held in Mexico, the Philippines and Belize. SECORE, whose projects are funded by donations and grants, also has worked with the U.S. Navy in the Florida Keys.

Healthy coral reefs contribute to healthy marine ecosystems. Dying reefs seriously impact nature but also can have economic consequences, since many of the countries that have them depend on the reefs for people's livelihoods in tourism or fishing.

In the countries where they hold workshops, Carl said, SECORE welcomes residents of the local communities to visit the work sites. “A vast majority are very receptive and cooperative. They just don't have a good understanding of what the threats are to the reef and why it's important to have them around,” he said.

This summer, he will work in Guam again, with a possible side trip to the Philippines.

Is there danger from sharks in his work? “Unfortunately, sharks have been so over-fished that we have never encountered one during any of our dives,” he said.

“Would be cool to see one though!”


Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom


Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

MUST
READS

Join us Thursday for momaha’s story time at iRead Books Join us Thursday for momaha’s story time at iRead Books
Join us 7 p.m. Thursday for Momaha’s Story Time. Our guest reader is momaha blogger Jen Schneider at the iRead Bookstore inside Oak View Mall. ' This month’s theme: Spring. During th...
Dr. Tricia Schmit: 9 ideas for a healthier Easter basket Dr. Tricia Schmit: 9 ideas for a healthier Easter basket
So, here we are, staring at Easter already and... more candy.
Applicants vying for ‘World’s Toughest Job’ get heartwarming surprise Applicants vying for ‘World’s Toughest Job’ get heartwarming surprise
Big shout-out to all of the moms out there.

Contests
& Events

Lossy
Six former artists-in-residence explore the murky territory of physicality in an era of mediated representation. Free and open to the public.
Lossy
Six former artists-in-residence explore the murky territory of physicality in an era of mediated representation. Free and open to the public.
Jerusalem
The city of Jerusalem is sacred to half the people on earth. This film seeks to explain why.
Lossy
Six former Bemis Center artists-in-residence explore the murky territory of physicality in an era of mediated representation.

Magazine

What You're saying