A few weeks ago a number of my friends decided to plan a trip to the National SeaLife Centre in Birmingham. They insisted that I go and play the role of tour guide having studied marine biology. I was hesitant. Did I really want to go and see an artificial setup? Was it really going to be an educational trip, or is it just an aquarium turned into a business? Would you go?
I decided to go. After all, it was an opportunity to spend time with some great friends. But it was somewhat underwhelming. As someone who wants to get out and observe marine life in its natural environment an artificial aquarium could never compare. It’s like comparing getting to the top of a small hill in the English countryside with summiting Everest. The former is nice, but the latter is breath-taking and requires so much more of you that the view is a reward for intentional effort. The cost of going to the SeaLife Centre is a train ride and a small sum of money, the cost of studying marine life in its natural environment is devoting your life to the development of a skillset that adds value to the research industry.
I’d have been happier with the aquarium if there was more detailed information on the organisms. Many displays did not appear to have any information about the animals (or only a few of the animals in the display). The information that was there could have been improved by showing a map of where the organisms are from. Just saying ‘South Africa’ for example, is not as engaging as displaying a map. Imagine if there were QR codes that linked to MarLIN or similar information sites. How much more people would be able to get out of their visit! There was also no information on the algae, it seems people are only interested in animals.
It would also have been more educational if there was information on the impacts of plastics in the ocean. While it wouldn’t be prudent to add a load of plastic to the displays with fish in, it would be interesting to see a display that shows how plastics behave in a body of water, and the impacts they have on marine life. A trip to the SeaLife Centre would be much more educational, impactful, and worthwhile if they displayed some of the major issues facing marine life. Plastics, ghost fishing, and invasive species, just to name a few. And it would have been great to see a call to action that challenges people to protect the oceans and reduce their use of plastics.
Would I recommend going? No. As someone who wants to get out and observe marine life in its natural environment this artificial aquarium could never compare. Maybe if you have young kids it would be interesting for them for a while. If you do go, don’t just walk past everything as if ticking off a check list of what you’ve seen. Sit and observe things moving, watch their behaviour. My friends were jealous that I’d seen the octopus swimming around simply because I’d sat and waited while they pressed on ahead.
Have you been to an aquarium like the SeaLife Centre? What did you think of it? Do you think there is a role for them as educational tools, or are they just businesses? Let me know your opinion in the comments below.