Keys Homes
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Volunteer Dan Arthur shares expertise on water for the birds

By ROBIN ROBINSON Key West Garden Club

Dan Arthur has migrated back to Berkley, Michigan after spending his winter working at the Key West Garden Club and the Wildlife Center. This winter he wondrously improved the water system at the Wildlife Center by adding a self-cleaning biological filter to two major water tanks.

In the past, the pelican aviary tank that holds 720 gallons of water was cleaned by hand, daily, that is 18,000 gallons of water a month, 227,000 gallons a year. No filtering systems were used. Now it only needs to be cleaned every two weeks. Previously, large amounts of volunteer time and energy were used to clean the tanks every day.

"Water savings aside, it is going to keep the animals cleaner," Arthur explained. "Oil builds up on the surface of the water and it destroys the birds waterproofing ability. This is especially important for sea birds. This tank will improve their quality of life and the condition of their feathers."

A year ago, Sunrise Rotary cleaned all of the sand out of the gravel on the bottom of the cages. It was back-breaking, dirty work, but now the water flows easily through the gravel and it cleans it, said Peggy Coontz, Animal Care Director.

The gravel and sand combination previously on the bottom of the cages, turn to bacteria filled muck and concrete that is bad for bird's feet, whereas gravel alone is excellent, she said. "No matter how much they walk on it, it gives," advised Coontz. "It's been wonderful. It is better for the birds as it is more sanitary for their feet and it is better for the humans because it doesn't smell so bad."

There is a second 500-gallon tank installed in the rehabilitation cage that saves another 180,000 gallons of water a year. It was built outside to avoid upsetting the pelicans. "We have an abnormal number of injured pelicans this year and it is putting stress on the rehabilitation pool," Coontz said. "We have more birds than the system can keep clean and we have been changing that water every other day."

The Wildlife Center is scheduled to drill a well with a salt-water pump so that the tanks can be filled with salt water. The birds won't know they've left the ocean, Arthur said. Also scheduled is a water system that will put 9,000 gallons of rainwater collected from the roof into a cistern for fresh water.

The biological pump runs water through a medium that looks like white Scotch-Brite. It's a one-inch thick, fibrous filter media that is seeded inside with a powdered immaculate of bacteria mixture. The bacteria colonizes the fiber and functions as a biological filter. Water percolates through it while the bacteria feed on its nitrates. Gravity outflow goes through a PVC pipe and stirs the water at a rate of 580-gallons an hour making the turn over 24 times a day. Plants save the day again.

"The 46 watts of electricity that runs the pump is similar to a 40-watt light bulb. It has a magnetic pump impeller. The wiring goes through PVC pipes. Cormorants like sitting on those pipes," said Arthur.

Arthur donated his time and expertise. "It took many trips to the hardware store on my bike. It's pretty tricky carrying four-foot PVC pipes on my bike and trying to get through N. Roosevelt." And, Tom Sweets, the Executive Director of the Key West Wildlife Center, donated the hardware.

Arthur is also a piano tuner; he's played a sweet song for the injured birds at the Wildlife Center. Every step forward is helping the birds. Arthur is migrating back to Key West next winter to continue his work improving the Water for the Birds.


The Key West Garden Club's Spring Luncheon will be at Square One at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, May 5. Tickets ($30) may be purchased at West Martello or from Donna Froelich, 294-5136.

Floral Design theme for the summer months is "A Summer Party" crafted with dried plant materials. Stop by the fort for a respite from the summer sun.

Key West Master Gardener Robin Robinson was a columnist for the Chicago Daily News and syndicated with Princeton Features. Her books "Plants of Paradise" and "Roots Rocks and Rain: Native Trees of the Florida Keys," can be found at the Garden Club and on This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club. For more information visit

More Keys Homes Stories
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Sunday, April 2, 2017