Southern Agenda

Curious by Nature

Large tanks (including a seven-thousand-gallon stingray touch pool) swimming with more than a hundred species from surrounding coastal ecosystems remain focal points of the reopened Alabama Aquarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. But some of its newest and tiniest residents are gems, too. “Our baby diamondback terrapins are adorable,” says aquarium educator Mendel Graeber. The nursery tank, where the terrapins grow from the size of bottle caps to coasters, debuted after a two-month renovation that strengthened the aquarium’s connection to the Lab’s research; they’re part of a project to increase the threatened species’ numbers by nurturing hatchlings for a year before releasing them. “They’ve really captured hearts,” Graeber says. (Kids are especially entranced, so a step stool ensures a good look for those on short legs.) The turtles have proved small but mighty ambassadors for the aquarium’s conservation message, and the work extends outdoors. “The animals inside spark wonder and curiosity to learn more, so we also do excursions on the Gulf and into area salt marshes and maritime forest,” Graeber says, “and they’re great experiences in winter; you won’t melt!”