CARTERET COUNTY, N.C. (WNCT)–An effort to make one aquarium in the East more sustainable is underway, and its key component is something so small it’s hard to see with the naked eye.

Carteret Community College professor, David Cerino, and his two students are working with the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores to capture eggs from spawning fish in current aquarium habitats.

“Our focus is understanding the water quality and the systems used for maintaining aquatic animals,” Cerino said.

Custom-sized egg collectors were installed last week in the main habitat overflow to collect floating eggs of 22 fish species living in the habitat.

“We had to build a large net with the collection basin at the end of the bucket so it could protect the eggs from getting beaten up,” he said.

It’s the first time that a collection device has been incorporated in the filtration system and a major milestone for ensuring sustainability. Aquarium staff will monitor the fine netting, which is attached to a collection container.

“It allows us to raise more fish in-house and collect less fish, therefore alleviating pressures on wild populations,” Trent Boyette, assistant aquarium curator, said. The collection is currently taking place at the Shipwreck Habitat, but there are plans to expand it.

Cerino says they’ve collected three species’ eggs so far. Those collected on Wednesday were brought back to the lab at Carteret Community College. On the first night running the collector, 25,000 eggs were collected, mostly Red Drum. Those eggs were then hatched and are currently being reared at the college.

Researchers with the project say the potential is endless and they hope to work with other state aquariums on sustainability.