Nearly a dozen scientists and educators will move into a new 14,000 square foot facility on the banks of the Tennessee River at Baylor School's riverfront campus next year.

The $4.5 million effort is in partnership with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and will serve as the only freshwater science center in the Southeast. This biological field station will allow scientists to breed specimens (plants, animals, etc.) through natural processes. The facility will have three fully-equipped labs for researchers, a spacious teaching lab for Baylor's upper school students. Other high schools' students and college students will use the teaching lab as well.  

Nearly three out of four native fish species found in the United States live within 500 miles of Chattanooga. The rivers, lakes and streams are also home to half the freshwater turtles found in North America, and nearly all of the salamanders, mussels and crayfish found on the continent.

“We are surrounded by an underwater rainforest,” said Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI). “These amazing freshwater communities are unparalleled for any location outside the tropics. This is why the Southeast is so exciting to the scientific community.”

Unfortunately, extinction rates of freshwater animals are two to five times higher than terrestrial or marine animals. 

“TNACI’s role in collaborative conservation planning allows our research to have a direct and lasting impact throughout the region,” said Dr. George. “We work with other conservation managers in the Southeast to ensure that as our region grows, we are able to preserve the freshwater animals and habitats that support our high quality of life.”

TNACI has already begun hiring scientists with extensive backgrounds in conservation genetics, field biology, cave biology, and geographic information systems. They will begin new research with turtles and salamanders. Dr. George plans to have eight to 10 scientists and educators moving into the new building when the doors open sometime in the late summer or fall of 2016.

“Baylor School is immensely proud to partner with the Tennessee Aquarium,” said Scott Wilson, Baylor School Headmaster. “This opportunity represents a triumph for TNACI, Baylor, and everyone in this region who is passionate about freshwater conservation, science, and education.”

Healthy rivers and watersheds are vital to local economies, to enjoyment of the natural world and to the quality of the environment on which we all depend. Like all challenges related to public health, there are no quick and easy fixes. Dr. George and other Aquarium experts believe that expanding TNACI’s programs now will help build a healthier future for our communities and help solidify Chattanooga’s environmental reputation on a national level.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is a lead financial supporter of the project. 

Consolidating scientific efforts within a state-of-the-art facility will enable the Aquarium to focus on the research and restoration of freshwater animals and their habitats throughout our region in ways never before envisioned. With continued community support, the Aquarium hopes to grow its commitment to freshwater science to $8 million over the next five years.