Oceanium, Rotterdam Zoo, The Netherlands
All around is blue. There’s water above, there’s water either side, and there’s water ahead. Like a fish out of water, I’m surrounded by ocean.
Sharks glide past on one side and then a large turtle appears, swimming overhead. Schools of fish dart around and a stingray patrols the sandy ground.
This is what it must feel like to be in the sea… yet here I am in the middle of Rotterdam in The Netherlands.
But if you think being in the tunnel of Rotterdam Zoo’s Oceanium is interesting enough, let me take you outside it to a truly fish out of water experience: behind the scenes of the aquarium.
Visitors are not normally allowed back here and this is a special access opportunity just so I can show you what goes on to keep the Oceanium running.
“We have a public lab where visitors can also have a look and get an impression of what we’re doing behind the scenes,” the zoo’s Constance Alderlieste tells me. “But what you’re seeing – that is real.”
Constance leads me through a nondescript door, up a flight of internal stairs and down a corridor of offices. In one room, models of sharks hang from the ceiling and a cloth stingray is strewn over a set of shelves.
We turn right at the end of the corridor and walk down a metal gangway. Suddenly we arrive at a massive pool.
I go to peer over the edge and Constance warns me to make sure nothing I’m carrying might fall into it. I see why when I look down and watch a turtle go past, followed by a shark and some fish.
Beneath me is the huge aquarium with the tunnel going right through the middle of it.
“We have 7 million litres of water in the oceanium and in the shark area 3 million litres,” Constance explains as I stare around in awe.
From above it looks massive on a scale that was hard to judge from below.
There are pipes everywhere connected to big tanks. There’s a whirring sound in contrast to the silence of the tunnel we had just come from. It’s all part of the elaborate filtration system that keeps the animals alive.
“It consists of several kinds of filters, sand filters, biological filters, UV filters,” Constance tells me, “and all the water is purified within one and a half hours and we have a system in different layers.”
“The most pure water first goes to the animals which are very vulnerable then it goes to the sharks and the other fishes and at last to the sea lion – they are less vulnerable to illnesses than some of the specialised fish we have.”
I’m led back along the gangway, down the corridor and through another door at the other end. Again there’s a large room with a pool in the middle, although this one is covered with much more scaffolding and equipment.
A woman, whose name turns out to be Dayenne, emerges from the water in a scuba outfit. She had been underwater cleaning the windows and feeding the coral. She holds up an empty box where the food had been.
There’s also some lab equipment with plastic trays of samples. Like many zoos, there’s a lot of scientific work going on behind the scenes.
“They are breeding several kinds of fishes and corals also,” Constance explains.
Visiting Rotterdam Zoo
Rotterdam Zoo is one of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands with more than 1.4 million visitors each year. This Oceanium is just a drop in the ocean.
There’s also an arctic section with polar bears, an Asian area with elephants, and Africa area with crocodiles, a savannah with hyenas and zebras, and a new butterfly section where cocoons are sent each week from Costa Rica.
You could spend all day wandering around the different zones but unfortunately I don’t have that kind of time today. Luckily there are plenty more fish in the sea.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Rotterdam Marketing but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.