As a part of our continuing research, networking and opening of doors for future collaboration with colleagues at the most important Aquariums throughout the world, the Institute’s trip to three institutions on the Mediterranean Sea deepened our understanding of their unique approaches to engaging the public as well as their current scientific concentrations and programs.
Beginning at L’Aquàrium de Barcelona, the largest Mediterranean-themed aquarium in the world, we met up with Director and Conservador Patrici Bultó Sagnier (photo below with Aletha Lang, chair of our board of directors).
He showed us all around the behind-the-scenes quarantine, laboratory and life support system areas of this major, privately-owned public Aquarium that opened in 1995 – nearly 20 years ago.
What struck us most was the small staff that run the whole place and yet still find the time to conduct ground-breaking research into the specialized feeding of a new-to-an-aquarium Mediterranean shark species and other important experiments that the general public never sees.
The public side exhibits at the Barcelona Aquarium were certainly stunning and beautiful as well:
Next stop was the Musée Océanographique de Monaco (Oceanographic Museum of Monaco), established in 1910 by Monaco’s modernist reformer, Prince Albert I, and home to the Mediterranean Science Commission. Although over 100 years old, the museum includes a wonderfully modern public Aquarium contained in this imposing edifice perched on the cliff above the sea.
Here, I was graciously greeted by the Head of the Aquarium, Pierre Gilles, who permitted me to roam the facility, study and photograph their impressive exhibits. This Aquarium is renowned for having Jacques-Yves Cousteau as its director from 1957 to 1988.
Dr. Jean Jaubert, working at the museum until 5 years ago, was instrumental in making great strides in the long-term keeping of reef-building stony corals in the Aquarium’s many reef aquarium exhibits.
Today, Aquarium staff, led by CEO Robert Calcagno, beautifully carries on the work so well established in the past. Currently, there is a shark touch-tank experience that features a free-form acrylic tank. It is one of the finest examples of acrylic craftsmanship I have ever seen and made for a real “wow” conclusion to the marine exhibits.
Last, but certainly not least, was our visit to the Acquario Della Stazione Zoologica Di Napoli, (The Aquarium of the Zoological Station of Naples), the very first Mediterranean public Aquarium, founded in 1872 by German Darwinist Felix Anton Dohrn to support a marine and ecological research station.
Today’s manager of the Aquarium, Sandra Hochscheid (also a German), explained to us that current funding comes from Italy’s Ministry of Education, University and Research and plans are being finalized for an upgrade of the Aquarium. Sandra took us behind-the-scenes and even into the Aquarium’s basement where the facility operates a sea turtle shelter. They were stunned at a recent new rescue from an Italian beach – a little lost Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle all the way from the Gulf of Mexico! He is doing quite well now, but cannot be re-released in the Mediterranean.
The concept of funding scientific research through admissions to a public Aquarium was innovative for 1872, but Anton Dohrn added this revenue stream to the Zoological Station’s income derived from the rental fees collected from individual scientists, universities, institutions and governments for work and research space that became known as “the Bench System,” and from the sale of scientific publications.
Much like our concept for Aquarius Aquarium Institute, Anton Dohrn pioneered the idea of creating a facility with private donations where scientists could find everything necessary (lab space, state-of-the-art equipment, animals, aquariums and expert staff) to support their freely-chosen individual and collaborative research projects and experimental investigations.
The Aquarium of the Zoological Station Anton Dohrn of Naples even had a little touch tank like the one we have at Aquarius Aquarium Institute for sea stars, hermit crabs and other invertebrates. Theirs, of course, contained sea animals from the Mediterranean.
All photos by Tom and Aletha Lang