Aquariums are the most magical place in the world, and these days they’re more important than ever. Before you come at me with your “fish belong in the sea not in a tank” arguments, let me explain. For many people around the world, an aquarium is the first — and sometimes only — place they’ll ever see sea creatures up close. That’s why aquariums have a responsibility to educate the public about the importance of marine biodiversity and the mounting threats against our oceans.
Nausicaa in Boulogne-Sur-Mer is the epitome of what an aquarium should be today. It’s got more than 1,000 different creatures in a truly stunning space on France’s Opal Coast, which includes an impressive 18-meter-long tunnel and sea lion sanctuary. It touts itself as the biggest aquarium in Europe (but honestly so do a lot of other aquariums, so take that with a grain of salt). Nausicaa is also a research facility, breeding center and rescue hospital for sick and injured animals.
The giant window is also where aquarium staff have their education sessions — usually presented as some type of exciting show (like shark feeding, which we unfortunately missed when we were at Nausicaa). This is where aquarium goers get to learn about animals very few people get the chance to see in the wild, in a setting that is quite simply magical.
The second area “Mankind and Shores” is perhaps less awe-inspiring, but arguably more important to see. It’s about how humans are changing marine environments, and it addresses crucial issues like climate change and pollution. Through a series of areas that emulate underwater environments around the world, you come away with a sense of why the link between humans and the ocean is so important, but also why it’s so fragile.
What I liked about Nausicaa is that it doesn’t hit you over the head with the message. The exhibits are interesting of their own accord — the mangrove swamp I found to be particularly well done, explaining a vital ecosystem that’s often misunderstood and undervalued by the general public, and by governments around the world. The coral jungle also provided a glimmer of hope to one of the biggest tragedies affecting our oceans today — the endangerment of coral reefs due to rising sea temperatures. And there was a lovely little section called “Island Stories” showcasing voices from island nations around the world — and how they’re dealing with environmental changes from the front lines.
I could honestly go on for hours about this aquarium — we spent at least 4 hours walking around. But at the risk of boring you all, I suggest you go see it for yourself. And if you can’t make it to Nausicaa, head to your local aquarium. Take your kids, take your friends, take your friends’ kids. And take them often. Because our oceans are vital to each and every one of us on this planet, and if that’s not a good enough reason go because the underwater world is freaking magical.