Sustainable Swimming, Swirling, and Swarming
Sea turtles, honey bees, and filtration pumps have it rough. Seldom do any of the three get to rest. Yet, innovative programs developed by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment aim to save energy, save money, and lead to healthier animals.
Swimming in a New Direction
When SeaWorld San Antonio opened the new 126,000-gallon “Turtle Reef” habitat this spring, a new concept also bubbled to the surface. A more natural water filtration system—what SeaWorld calls “a first of its kind in a zoological setting”—mimicking a wetlands ecosystem using seagrass. The process reduces energy costs, while setting a guest-facing example for sustainable water use.
“It’s a game-changing deviation from the way habitats have been designed for the last 30 years,” says Dr. Jeff Keaffaber, SeaWorld’s corporate director of environmental design.
Here’s how it works: Water from an adjacent salt marsh planted with native seagrass found in the Gulf of Mexico flows into “Turtle Reef.” As it does, healthy bacteria living among the roots of the seagrass feed on waste produced by the sea turtles and fish living in the reef.
“Water actually runs through this planted wetland like the tides in the natural world,” explains Keaffaber. “The bacteria are extremely efficient at removing nitrogen waste from the sea turtles and the hundreds of fish in the habitat.”
The system is on display for guests, with signage explaining the process.
Under Keaffaber’s direction, several of the pumps in use at the SeaWorld family of parks now have variable frequency drives (VFD) attached to the pump motors. The VFDs regulate the velocity of the pump motors and prevent them from running at full speed, when lower filtering demands don’t warrant the greater capacity. For example, when a VFD senses a filter is clean, it will reduce the motor’s speed.
“The VFDs allow the motors to run more efficiently, and this cuts the amount of energy we use, which also cuts operation costs,” Keaffaber explains.
He believes anything with a pump—from a wave pool and lazy river to an aquarium—can be outfitted with a cost-saving VFD, which he’s planning to include at the new SeaWorld park opening in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
“For water parks that have been around for a while, these are cost-effective ways to retrofit older equipment which create a short-term return on investment,” Keaffaber says.
Swarming with Initiative
At SeaWorld Orlando, the park’s Honey Bee Conservation Program helps the plight of honey bees and other animals. Working registered with Florida’s Department of Agriculture, SeaWorld Orlando places honey bee swarm collection buckets around the park’s perimeter to attract swarms and prevent possible extermination that may occur should the swarming bees take up residence elsewhere. The zoology team then uses the antimicrobial properties and antioxidants found in the honey on the wounds of the more than 35,000 animals SeaWorld has rescued and rehabilitated. The bees produce upward of 300 to 400 pounds of honey a year, enough for all three of SeaWorld’s parks in Orlando to use in their care and treatment of animals.
For an example of how SeaWorld shares its sustainability efforts, visit