Hi, I’m Megan, a student from University of the West of England, and earlier this year I spent some time on a placement at the National Marine Aquarium. As part of my university course, I conducted a research project studying the effects of environmental enrichment on animal behaviour – starring none other than one of the NMA’s best-loved residents, Friday, the cheeky Green Turtle!
Environmental enrichment, in basic terms, is the method of providing mental and physical stimulation to animals living in Aquariums to encourage natural and positive behaviours, such as foraging and hunting.
There are 5 main categories of enrichment, which include:
– Food-based enrichment, to prolong feeding times encourages the animal’s natural feeding behaviours, such as foraging or hunting.
– Sensory enrichment to encourage animals to use their five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
– Cognitive enrichment, using novel objects and toys that occupy the animal’s time, provide them with mental stimulation and engaging them problem solving exercises.
– Social enrichment, housing an animal with its own species or/and other species that they would naturally associate with or encounter in the wild.
– Physical enrichment, in which natural behaviours of the animal are encouraged, such as random swimming and foraging.
Friday can be a very naughty turtle, and was often found stealing food from other animals within the exhibit or pestering the divers while they were trying to clean the tank – making him the perfect subject for an enrichment project designed to improve his behaviour.
I decided to try providing him with novel, more interesting enrichment in order to maintain his focus longer during feeds – and to ensure he was well occupied so that he didn’t feel the need to bother other tank residents and divers.
I designed an enrichment schedule with new toys to provide cognitive, physical enrichment. These included a feeding mat, placed at the bottom of the tank, where lettuce and other vegetables can be attached; a rope stretching the depth of the tank with food attached along intervals; a weighted boomer ball with food inside; a floating bucket, at the water’s surface, with holes in it from which food can be retrieved; and a lettuce feeder that he could push around the tank. These devices helped to encourage foraging behaviour, diving and random swimming, which are all positive for Green Turtles like Friday.
I also implemented sensory enrichment in the form of a scratching/rubbing toy and some TLC time with the biologist, where shell scrubs and neck rubs are provided. After all, what turtle doesn’t like a bit of pampering!? He continues to receive this extra attention every week, and suffice it to say, he loves it!
I conducted this project over the course of six weeks. For the first two weeks, Friday’s behaviour was monitored and recorded with his basic target enrichment. After two weeks, his new enrichment schedule with his new toys was implemented and further monitoring took place to see if there was a difference in his behaviour. Observations took place four times a day for 15 minutes a time, at the front of the Atlantic Ocean tank.
Keep an eye out for my next blog to find out what the results were!