“No two days are the same!”
That’s a sentiment echoed by many on the Seattle Aquarium facilities team, which handles a broad array of tasks in the areas of engineering, maintenance, custodial, safety and security. “We support the entire organization, working behind the scenes and for our visitors. We’re not the stars of the show, but we’re important,” says Facilities Manager Jesse Phillips-Kress. “We’re facilitators.”
The skill sets of facilities team members are just as diverse as the tasks they do. “We’ve got everyone from a traditionally trained engineer, to a biologist, to tradespeople and jacks-of-all-trades,” says Jesse. The team is critical for the operation and safety of the Aquarium and, as such, someone who can respond to an emergent need is on-site every minute of every day. That’s especially important for our animals, when an exhibit malfunction can mean life or death if not addressed quickly.
7,000,000 gallons per day
Unlike land-locked aquariums that must “make” their own salt water, the Seattle Aquarium’s waterfront location allows us to pump directly from Puget Sound. Approximately seven million gallons of seawater come in and out of the Aquarium each day. For comparison, our largest exhibit, the Underwater Dome, holds about 400,000 gallons.
Only water destined for exhibits with filter-feeders like barnacles and anemones, which depend on the plankton in “raw” seawater to survive, is untreated. Water for our remaining exhibits is filtered to varying degrees and, in the case of tropical exhibits, heated as well. “It’s a complicated process,” says Engineer Bob Kiel. “We’re trying to replicate the habitat and conditions for optimum animal health, and in a way that provides a dynamic presentation for our visitors.”
What flows in also, eventually, flows back out. Facilities team members periodically test the water being returned to Puget Sound to ensure it falls below the allowable limits set by regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Departments of Ecology and Agriculture.
“When you’re on water, everything shifts”
Building maintenance at the Seattle Aquarium has an extra layer of intricacy because of our location over Puget Sound. Although the force of the tides can’t be felt, their movements exert a definite impact on our building. “Nothing stays square,” laughs Jesse. “Even something as simple as hanging a door becomes much more involved.”
Whether it’s hanging doors, creating custom animal life support systems, reuniting a lost child with their parents, or installing tiny ladders in the gutters to aid baby gulls who have accidentally slipped down the roof – every day on the facilities team holds new challenges and opportunities to learn.