Cayuga Lake: Past and Present


Cayuga Lake: Past and Present

Get a new view into the life in Cayuga Lake--and how it has changed over the past 200 years--at our "Cayuga Lake: Past and Present" aquaria exhibit at the Nature Center. The centerpieces are a pair of 650-gallon aquaria that are inhabited by the fishes of past and present Cayuga Lake. This exhibit lets you see into the past by telling the story of one specific site along Cayuga Lake at two different times: today and 300 years ago. One aquarium represents the biota of the Lake today, and the other the biota before the major impacts of European settlers. Learn about life in and around Cayuga Lake, how it has changed in recent history, and the implications of these changes for the future of the lake.

Displays in the exhibit explain Cayuga Lake’s complex ecology and rich biodiversity. Besides the species in the aquaria, displays and interactive videos inform visitors about fish species that are native to the Finger Lakes, as well as facts about some of the introduced species.

Cayuga Lake—38 miles long, up to 435 feet deep, and covering almost 43,000 acres—is the second largest of Central New York’s 11 Finger Lakes and among the 40 deepest lakes in the United States. The surrounding land surface that drains into the lake, the Cayuga Lake Basin, covers around 785 square miles. Changes in the region’s biota and landscape occurred with the arrival of European settlers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. As a result of these changes, the kinds and communities of plants and animals that live in and around Cayuga Lake today are very different than they were just two centuries ago.

Cayuga Lake is currently home to approximately 80 species of fishes, at least nine of which were introduced by humans over the past two centuries. The lake is also home to a growing number of additional introduced and invasive species of plants and animals, many of which have substantial negative environmental, aesthetic, or economic impacts.

The Cayuga Lake: Past and Present exhibit was made possible by grants from the New York Economic Development Program, the Tompkins County Tourism Program, and the Triad Foundation, with additional support from Cornell University, Incodema, Inc., and individual donors.




Coming Soon! Installation timelapse

The Cayuga Lake: Past and Present exhibition’s design and installation was done by Split Rock Studios, a nationally recognized exhibit design and fabrication firm located in St. Paul, Minnesota. The two massive 650 gallon tanks were custom fabricated by The Aquarium Company. Each tank has a 400 pound, 2-inch thick custom-made curved acrylic front to give a clear view of the inhabitants. Each tank also has two separate water filtration systems, as well as chiller units to keep the water at the correct temperature for lake-dwelling fish. The installation of our exhibit happened over a two-week period in July, 2018, below is a time-lapse of the installation.