Marine Engineering team: architects and stylists of marine habitats

They turn fish tanks into a home away from home for more than 100,000 marine animals in S.E.A. Aquarium. They are none other than our Marine Engineering team.

This small team of five works hard to develop new habitats for incoming marine animals, as well as take charge of related projects and upgrades around the S.E.A. Aquarium such as plumbing, carpentry and construction works.

Our Marine Engineering team creating the Central and South American freshwater habitat from scratch.

All our Marine Engineers are former aquarists, and they have a combined fish-keeping experience of over 60 years. Their expertise in marine life and husbandry is extremely critical in their current job. This is because in order to build a habitat that effectively simulates the animals’ natural environment, they need to first understand, predict and anticipate the animals’ needs and behaviour. For example, for animals that prefer to hide amongst rocks during the day, the team will build small caves, crevices and other hiding spots for them, while ensuring that they can still be viewed by the public.

American Blue Lobster
Crevices in the American blue lobster’s habitat allows it to feel safe and hidden while guests can still have a good view of it

Their experience working underwater also comes in handy as they are sometimes required to dive into deep habitats to fix or improve them. Small habitats can be equally challenging to work on, such as the poison arrow frog habitat.  They had to contort their body to get inside the 2m x 1.5m x 1m tank (about 3 queen-size matresses stacked together), and remain in odd positions for prolonged periods, resulting in aches all over their body.

Apart from the physical demands, this job also requires research and creativity. In order to create a variety of environments in the Aquarium, the Marine Engineering team makes it a point to give every habitat a distinctive look – the result of time-consuming research and out-of-the-box thinking.

One of their recent projects that required extensive research is the Central and South American Freshwater Habitat which is a paludarium – a habitat display that incorporates both terrestrial and aquatic plants, as well as aquatic life. To better understand terrestrial plant growth, the team took the initiative to purchase about 50 different potted plants and created a vertical green wall in their own homes.

Prior to building this green wall in the Central and South American Freshwater Habitat, the team conducted their own research on the green wall in their own homes. They also spent months searching for plants that had to be specially imported.

The fruit of their labour is a tranquil space in which guests are instantly transported to the lush Amazon Rainforest.
 Central and South American Freshwater Habitat

When asked which habitat is the team’s favourite, Ho Ju Ward, Curator of the Marine Engineering team said,

Every tank is unique, and is like a child to us. We don’t have a favourite habitat because we take immense pride in our work and love all of them equally.

However, Ju Ward’s most memorable project to date is the Back of House (BOH) area for the Sea Jellies. The original BOH area was small and claustrophobic. He took it upon himself to expand the floor space, before procuring more Krisel tanks and lights that are important for encouraging Sea Jelly growth. As a result, our Sea Jelly aquarists successfully closed the life cycle of our Sea Jellies (maintain the entire life cycle under human care without having to source from nature), and managed to culture more species.

Whatever the project, their biggest obstacle is always time. “Deadlines can be extremely stressful. Doesn’t help that certain projects can only be worked on outside of operating hours as we do not want to affect the guests’ experience,” said Ju Ward. As such, they always have to race against time not just to meet deadlines, but also ensure that they deliver on every aspect of the project.

An upcoming habitat that’s currently work-in-progress. Can you guess which animals will be calling this habitat home?

But even after a project is completed, the team believes there is always room for improvement. Which is why they continue to come up with ideas to enhance the habitats.

Clearly, being a Marine Engineer is a laborious and strenuous job. But the team gains immense satisfaction from seeing the public gaze at the habitats in amazement, impressed by the beautiful displays that they have worked extremely hard to create.

Our Marine Engineering team: (from left) Rackin Poh, Ten Kian Hui, Ho Ju Ward and Tay Hong Yap. Kane McGuinn (not in picture) is too camera shy.

Click here to read about the other backbone of the aquarium – the Life Support Systems team which specialises in water systems.

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