Staff at The Deep have a very hands-on approach with enclosure design; taking on the majority of theming and building themselves. In September 2016, the crew embarked upon a large scale refurbishment of the popular open topped Lagoon exhibit. Taking almost seven months, the display has been transformed into a lush tropical reef; boasting large artificial mangrove trees, sculpted rock work and brightly coloured corals.
The aim of the project was to create a space that was more interesting to look at both above and below the water line. With the help of internationally renowned exhibit designer David Lazenby, it was decided that this would be based around the Palau Islands of Micronesia and the shallow waters of their Indio-Pacific reefs.
As you step into the exhibition space, you are greeted with weathered limestone rock formations covered in dense pandanus and palms. The back of the display is lined with large artificial, yet highly realistic Red mangrove trees, which were created and installed by talented themic artist Ruth Harrison.
Over 1,000 artificial corals have been ‘planted’ within the exhibit, which have been moulded directly from real coral skeletons to give them natural texture and shape. It would not have been feasible to grow or sustainably source the large stony corals required on the scale that would be suited to an exhibit of this size.
As well as improving the appearance, a great emphasis has also been placed on upgrading the life support systems. A hidden wave surge device has been installed alongside new pumps, which has dramatically increased flow within the exhibit. Combined with modifications to the protein skimming and nutrient export systems, this will undoubtedly benefit animal health.
By removing the ceiling above the exhibit they have also been able to upgrade the lighting system, providing the ability to run a lighting programme that includes sunrise, dusk and moon phases. This helps to replicate conditions from the animal’s natural environment, ensuring that they feel more comfortable in the display and demonstrate natural behaviours that would be exhibited within wild populations.
Since re-opening in March 2017, the exhibit has remained popular amongst visitors of all ages; particularly with younger children as the display is vibrant with colour and on a level that allows them greater interaction with the animals.
The refurbished exhibit is being used to further explain the threats faced by coral reefs. Rising sea temperature, climate change, ocean acidification and other anthropogenic threats (those arising from human activity) are all putting the world’s reefs in danger. Through engaging interpretation it is hoped that visitors will take away a meaningful conservation message and learn about the importance of reef ecosystems, inspiring the next generation to help protect the oceans.
The Deep staff have been taking a hands on approach to developing naturalistic habitats for their animals for a number of years now, from miniature invertebrate habitats up to an Antarctic icescape for their penguin colony. They ensure that they are not only aesthetically pleasing but also meet the behavioural and welfare needs of the animals.