Tampa Bay’s Best: The Florida Aquarium

Florida Aquarium employee Eric Hovland and guest Angela Moody share a passion for marine life and the environment in which they live.

Hovland has seen The Florida Aquarium blossom into the popular Tampa attraction that it is today.

“I’ve worked here at The Florida Aquarium for going on 22 years in May and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Hovland said. “Seeing the facility grow over the years and being able to work with all of the diverse species of marine life on a daily basis has been a dream come true for me.”

Located in downtown Tampa, right next to Port Tampa Bay, The Florida Aquarium offers its patrons a unique experience that is unlike any other aquarium in the United States.

“I had no idea until I got here that you could dive with sharks at this aquarium,” Moody said. “I’ve never heard of anything like that at any other aquarium I’ve ever been to.”

The Florida Aquarium was the first aquarium in the nation to offer an uncaged dive with sharks experience.

“We have the sand tiger sharks and all of our diverse fish that you can get to know,” Hovland said. “Learning about sharks can really accelerate when you can see sharks being sharks.”

People from all over the world travel to Tampa, which in turn brings many diverse people and cultures to The Florida Aquarium.

“Whether they’re getting off a cruise ship and stopping in for a visit, we really do get a diversity of the world’s culture,” Hovland said. “It’s nice to see our impact reaches much further than just the Tampa Bay area.”

For more information, please visit flaquarium.org

Local man strives for wildlife conservation

Bruno Falkenstein is the Godfather of sea turtles.

Since 1979 he has been monitoring the stretch of beach from the Pass-A-Grille jetty to Bunces Pass at Upham Beach. While the times and shoreline have changed drastically since Bruno’s first year on turtle patrol, his routine has not.

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Bruno gets out of bed at around 6:00 every morning from April 1 until Halloween.  He walks his dog and then grabs the keys for his Jeep. He leaves and drives down the beach to search for turtle tracks and check on existing nests.

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In the past few years there has been an increase in sea turtle nests and a rise in interested locals wanting to do their part to conserve the aquatic creatures.   In response to the swell in popularity, Bruno founded Sea Turtle Trackers Inc. The mission of Sea Turtle Trackers Inc. is to ensure a suitable habitat for sea turtles, people and the ecosystem of the islands and their surrounding waters. They also connect with the community and inform residents about what they can do to promote sea turtle conservation.

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There are other organizations in the state that do work similar to the Sea Turtle Trackers. Locally, Clearwater Marine Science Center monitors the Pinellas County beaches north of Bruno’s jurisdiction. Clearwater, however, has incentives for monitoring turtles besides just conservation.

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“The major difference between Clearwater Marine Science Center and myself is that I’m not under contract with Clearwater,” Bruno said.  “And by the way as food for thought, Clearwater gets paid about one hundred and thirty five thousand dollars a year to do Pinellas County beaches.  I won’t accept anything, I don’t want to be paid for anything. To me, it’s a labor of love.”

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In 2009, Bruno was named Florida Citizen of the Year by The Florida Beaches and Shores Association in recognition of his long time commitment to conservation.  As far as what is next for Bruno and the Trackers, he says he is more than content doing what he has done so well for the last 35 years.