Aquarium Alert

Last week, a huge aquarium housed in a Berlin hotel burst. Water, about 1500 fish, and debris flowed across the street causing chaos and slightly injuring two people. It was early in the morning, otherwise the 1 million litres of water pouring out from the aquarium might have led go many more injuries.

The AquaDom which burst was a star attraction of a complex with hotels, cafes and shops. It is supposed to have been the biggest cylindrical tank in the world. It is still not clear why the aquarium cracked when it did. It is speculated that the sudden overnight fall in temperature—it went down to -10c that night—may have caused in the acrylic glass tank to crack, which then led to its exploding under the weight of the water.

There were about 1500 fish of 80 species housed in the tank, of which most died. Just a few fish which were at the bottom survived.

Aquaria have never been easy to construct or maintain. Quite apart from managing the engineering challenges of building a structure that can hold the huge weight of water,, the design of these structures must take into account the requirements of the different types of creatures they house, since modern aquariums include all types of aquatic organisms: mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates as well as fishes in one exhibit. And what the tank is made of also requires thought–many substances, especially plastics and adhesives which are nontoxic to humans, are toxic to water-breathing animals.

Maintenance issues include problems such as water clarity, dissolved wastes, temperature, tank decor, disease treatment, and nutrition. And then of course, the glass has to be such that it does not reflect, so that visitors can see the creatures. Further, the structure has to be acoustically properly designed.

Maintaining water quality is critical of course—first and foremost, the inlet water must be free of pollutants including sewage and industrial wastes.  In fact, chlorine and other additives have been removed from water before it can be used for this purpose. The gaseous equilibrium of the water with the atmosphere has to be maintained to ensure adequate oxygen and to avoid super-saturation with nitrogen. Provision for  purification of metabolic wastes is of course critical.

Even addition of plants to an aquarium has to be done with care. Since aquaria are usually kept in bright light for many hours, the plants there photosynthesize much more, and the balance of carbon di oxide and oxygen and water in the water goes awry unless carefully balanced.

India never did have an AquaDom equivalent, but the Taraporewala Aquarium in Mumbai has a hoary history. It is the oldest aquarium in the country, and was opened by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India in 1951.

taraporewala-aquarium
Taraporewala Aquarium

The cost of building at that time was about ₹8 lakhs, of which ₹2 lakhs came from a Parsi philanthropist D. B. Taraporewala. So the government graciously named this aquarium after him.

It has over 100 species of fish and other aquatic animals like sharks, seahorses and turtles. The collection consists of freshwater, marine and tropical fishes brought from across the world.

It was a major tourist attraction for locals and tourists. And to keep up with the times and modernize the exhibits, it went through a major renovation less than 10 years ago.

However, construction work undertaken for the Mumbai Coastal Road project may likely have weakened the 70-year-old building and it was feared to be structurally unsafe. An audit was carried out in March 2022. Based on this, the government was to decide whether to repair the structure, re-construct it, or shift the aquarium from its location on Marine Drive to another location at Worli.

As of now, sadly the Aquarium is closed, and it is not clear what the government has decided.

Fish are probably low down on the priority list of policy-makers and decision-makers.

–Meena

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