Image: Black stickers placed on aquarium
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium via AP
A worker attaches window stickers that look like oil to the main tank of a 40,000-gallon aquarium at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa.
By
updated 6/24/2010 12:53:33 PM ET 2010-06-24T16:53:33

A new exhibit at an aquarium in Iowa that had intended to showcase the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico will instead be void of life to underline the environmental impact of the massive oil spill in the ocean basin.

The 40,000-gallon aquarium at the National Mississippi River and Aquarium in Dubuque, about 1,000 miles from where the river dumps into the Gulf, was supposed to have been teeming with sharks, rays and other fish. Two smaller tanks were to show a seagrass bed and coral reef.

"It may be the only time that people have ever seen a major aquarium that, instead of showing its fish, is showing an environmental disaster," said Jerry Enzler, the museum's executive director.

The main tank — the size of a school bus — will contain water and artificial coral, its sides adorned with window stickers that look like oil.

"It will look like the oil is sinking down and about to cover the coral, which will kill the coral," Enzler said.

Anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons of oil have spilled since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and blew out a well 5,000 feet underwater. BP PLC was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.

The Iowa exhibit, which opens Saturday as part of the museum's $40 million expansion, will feature a video showing the oil spill unfolding.

Video: Animals struggling (on this page) "We want everyone to pause and consider the delicate balance of life in our oceans," Enzler said.

It will be a powerful message, said Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a nonprofit accrediting group based in Silver Spring, Md.

"The upclose connection to animals is very powerful. It's part of how we teach our children about nature and in this case, man's impact on nature," Feldman said.

The Iowa museum reached out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when it was considering the exhibit, said Louisa Koch, the education director for NOAA.

"There have been many, many exhibits highlighting the impacts of hurricanes and tsunamis, but I think this is a really stunning way to go. The (disaster in the) Gulf is of unknown but certainly significant impact. I can think of no exhibit like this," she said.

The museum also displays a 92-foot map of the Mississippi River featuring a graphic of the oil spill that will grow as the disaster widens.

"Many times people view aquariums as a beautiful picture, almost a screen saver, so to speak," Enzler said. "This is no screen saver."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Animals struggling to survive in oil

  1. Closed captioning of: Animals struggling to survive in oil

    >>> to try to save her. you were down there how long?

    >> well, we've been down there since the very beginning of this bil spill.

    >> when you see what happened with the dolphin and you see that little girl crying, even though you're down there, you're not immune to it.

    >> as a wildlife biologist on the front lines you're still sobered and your heart aches when you see the little girl having to potentially inherit that mess.

    >> they're going to test and make sure it's related to this, obviously, right?

    >> they have a theory of where we go to solve a solution like this. but this dolphin was there and it was found nin oin the oil and until they do an animal version of an autopsy and get tests back, we won't know conclusive what killed this dolphin. it is tragic.

    >> we normally see the little crab and normally we wouldn't give it a second thought but when you see any of these animals completely coated in oil you wonder if this is happening on shore, what is going on out there?

    >> even bigger than that, chris , let's assume that dolphin is killed by the oil spill . you're seeing every level of the food chain . from the smallest little things to the things being impacted by this oil. that means this entire eco system is in a state of disaster.

    >> when you get so involved in a story for so long and your background. was there a moment when you were there, jeff, and you woke up in the middle of the night and something really hit you?

    >> there have been many moments, chris , where the camera becomes the filter that allows the natchrinatc naturalist in me to be separated at the moment. i think being there up to my knees in oil and having it penetrate my boot where both the cameraman and i and the biologist were dancing in this oil and then we look and we see shrimp and oysters covered in the oil and then we walk around and see this beautiful snowy egrid, it's not snowy, it's very excited about its potential and it did expire.

    >> for all the hard work that's going on down there, until the oil stops spewing, we don't know where this is going.

    >> we don't, chris . it's important that we do not give up hope. from the very beginning we have been out there in the front lines with the wildlife experts and the first responders and folks from louisiana wildlife and fisheries and the fish and wildlife service and tri- state bird rescue and the international bird rescue and research center and we were there when a group of dolphins completely mired in oil came in. it was pathetic, it was heartbreaking and i went with those pelicans. eventually we took them and washed them and cleaned them and yesterday we watched them liberate to freedom in texas. there is hope.

    >> there is good newi coming out of there.

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