July 2017: Bristol Aquarium, Bristol, UK
Seeing marine life up close at aquariums is exciting but the small, confined tanks don’t seem to teach us about natural behaviour underwater such as migratory patterns, foraging behaviour or life spans. Part of me will always believe that scuba diving is a much better way of learning about marine life, but even if you know how to dive, aquariums can be a lot of fun, a reminder of the beauty of marine life and a chance to encounter fish and other stuff you probably know about already or have seen thanks to your diving. Following a recent move to the UK, one aquarium has been serving me well as I wait for my dive gear and camera to arrive from Japan.
Conveniently located in the centre of town, Bristol Aquarium aims to increase visitors’ awareness and understanding of the aquatic world with over 40 displays of aquatic life. The displays are bright and impressive thanks to a combination of the latest technology including low level lighting, and successfully mimic conditions found in the wild. They cover an array of subjects from the UK coast, Mediterranean waters and freshwater habitats to tropical reefs and even amphibians and rainforests. Visitors can take the time they need going from tank to tank and reading about waves, coral reefs and the effects of overfishing and how we can make more sustainable choices through the fish we eat. What’s also nice about the displays is that they’re about the same height as the average child so little ones can see everything just as easily as adults. They can also enter a small helmet-like structure, stand up and look above and around them to watch seahorses bobbing up and down.
One unexpected surprise is the Urban Jungle, a botanical house under an inflated film roof that begins with an open-topped display of rays. As you make your way up, you can get a great view of the ray tank below and learn about exotic plants and tree species found in the Amazon and Mediterranean. The path then takes you into the upstairs part of the aquarium where you can look down on an ocean-like display tank. This area is also home to a massive intelligent and curious Pacific octopus that drew crowds of people during my visit.
The information boards are engaging and suitable for everyone, while the combination of plants and marine life is very original and well done. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of marine life as they walk through a glass tunnel and with feeding demonstrations and talks on offer, there is ample opportunity to learn even more about what you’re seeing, with staff on hand to answer any questions. A ticket to the aquarium is valid all day, which means you can leave anytime and come back later for something specific if there’s anything you have missed or want to see again.
Although not as big or detailed as other aquariums I’ve visited, Bristol Aquarium is extremely educational with a really good focus on children. Hopefully the excitement and awe that these children get to experience will turn into a lifelong appreciation and respect for the ocean and all that it has to offer.
For more information on Bristol Aquarium, check out their website here: https://www.bristolaquarium.co.uk