by: Janet Aslin, Assistant Editor
What’s it like to be a fish? As human beings we are dependent on the air we breathe, so unless we scuba dive or snorkel, avenues to enter a watery environment are quite limited. Therefore, the underwater world is a mystery to most of us. Aquariums, large and small, give us a chance to see marine life in its natural habitat. Jerusalem has just become home to a fascinating new aquarium.
One of a Kind
The first land-based aquarium in the Middle East has been built adjacent to Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo. The idea surfaced as part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s national biodiversity plan. Nicole Wexler, the zoo’s development director, told Israel21c that “…ecologists recommended that a national aquarium be established to raise awareness and educate people.” Seven years and NIS 100 million ($28.5 million) later, the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium (Israel Aquarium) is ready to reveal the beauty of sea life and bring the important message of conservation to young and old alike.
The new aquarium focuses on the four seas of Israel: the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret), the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Because it is a land-based aquarium, which by its definition uses fresh water, the challenge was to recreate the specific water conditions of the four seas. There is a gallery dedicated to each of these seas, containing the different aquatic life found in each body of water. Housed in a building covering 7,000 square meters (75,350 square feet), the aquarium contains a total of 33 tanks. The entire complex sits on a five acre tract which can be accessed from the Biblical Zoo by a wooden footbridge or directly to the site by car or bus.
Protecting the Environment
Natural curiosity and a desire to learn about the aquatic environment could be the reasons people will decide to come to the aquarium. Once there, however, visitors will find they are viewing a colorful underwater world while being challenged to consider how they may become advocates for the protection of the environment.
True to its original purpose, the aquarium brings a strong message of conservation to the visitors. Discarded plastic has become a huge problem in the world’s oceans. In the Mediterranean Sea Gallery, we learn never to bring plastic to the beach. Even if it is properly placed in a waste bin, winds can come along and blow the bag into the sea. As a practical demonstration, a visit to “the Jellyfish Gallery will provide a real-life look at how easy—and dangerous—it is for sea turtles to mistake a plastic bag for their favorite snack” (Israel21c).
Visitors will learn which species of fish are in danger of extinction due to overfishing. Fish can be divided into three categories: those which can be freely eaten, those which are potentially in danger and those which must not be eaten. The hope is that our eating habits will be influenced by knowledge.
The actions of man affect our environment. One example of this was the building and opening of the Suez Canal. Many species of marine life, native to the Red Sea, slowly migrated over time to the Mediterranean Sea and effectively changed its balance of sea life.
Fun for Kids
The shark tank has a walk through tunnel which allows visitors an experience similar to being in the water, surrounded by sea life. There are also “pop up stations” in several of the tanks which offer a 360° view of the surrounding underwater area and its inhabitants. Children can visit a special pool where they are able to feed sting rays with food the staff will provide on sticks (for a nominal fee).
A particular favorite sight for the kids is found in the Red Sea Gallery where one tank contains a broken chariot wheel and an Egyptian crest. The guide tells the children these are remains from a destroyed chariot that sank in the sea when the Children of Israel escaped from Egypt!
It’s Worth a Visit
The Israel Aquarium is set to become a new favorite destination for local Israelis and tourists alike. Signage is in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Whether you come with a family or on your own, there is sure to be something for everyone. Tickets can be combined with entrance to the Biblical Zoo or purchased separately. See you there!
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