The National Maritime Aquarium is an award-winning marine aquarium in Plymouth, Devon. Operated by the Ocean Conservation Trust, it is the largest aquatic museum in the UK.
Plymouth originally had an aquarium that was housed at the British Marine Biological Association. In operation from 1888, it was a popular local visitor attraction but desperately needed an upgrade. So proposals were made for a larger, more sophisticated space that was better-equipped to showcase the world’s marine life.
To this end, elaborate plans were drawn up for a multi-million pound facility that was to be constructed in three phases. Phase 1, the aquarium’s main building, opened to the general public in 1997 and comprised six exhibition centres, a viewing gallery as well as shops, restaurants and a workshop.
Phase 2, featuring a 2.3 million litre ocean tank with underwater cave and coral reef, was completed soon after as was Phase 3: an exhibition hall demonstrating marine science and renewable energy. Today, Plymouth’s cutting-edge aquarium attracts around 300,000 people every year.
The National Maritime Aquarium is split into four areas: Plymouth Sound, British Coasts, Atlantic Ocean and Blue Planet.
Plymouth Sound is located in the natural harbour outside the main building. It features seventeen tanks that exhibit the diverse range of local marine life acquired from the rock-pools and shallow waters around the famous port town. There are around 80 species of fish including sharks and rays as well as an assortment of marine invertebrates such as starfish. Visitors can also see the aquarium’s very own shark nursery with eggs sourced from its in-house breeding programme.
The British Coasts section can be found at the centre of the main aquarium and is where the acclaimed Eddystone Reef exhibit is situated – the UK largest single viewing panel. From here you can get up close and personal with impressive marine species found only in British waters. These include houndsharks, with their beautiful star-like markings and a variety of elegant flat fish.
The NMA’s enormous, 2.5 million litre Atlantic Ocean exhibit is one of the main attractions and has a collection of separate exhibits including ‘Ocean Drifters’, ‘Ocean Predators’ and ‘Lost at Sea’. An observation deck and glass ‘demi-tunnel’ allow visitors to view some of the most majestic sea creatures in the world such as tiger sharks, upside-down jellyfish, stingrays, moon jellies and giant turtles.
The Blue Planet zone showcases yet more exotic marine life including octopuses and seahorses. Its Great Barrier Reef exhibit is a particular highlight and is the NMA’s second largest tank at 700,000 litres. It is home to a vividly colourful range of up to 70 different fish species such as the ever popular clownfish.
As well as the numerous exhibitions, the NMA operates a variety of bookable events including activity sessions, lectures, parties and ‘sleeping with shark’ sleepovers. The latter event provides visitors with a great opportunity to learn about marine life during after-hours and includes guided twilight tours and movie-screenings.
Images kindly provided by the National Maritime Aquarium
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