Amazing Aquaria

24Mar06

s published in Virtual Malaysia Magazine [March / April 2006]

When a new aquarium opened in town, the Virtual Malaysia team simply had to take a dive! Majidah Hashim gives Aquaria KLCC two enthusiastic thumbs down… that’s “meet you at the bottom” in diving terms.

It was unmistakably the school holidays, with kids swarming in high-pitched stampedes into Suria KLCC all morning. Apologetic-looking parents trail the pack, succumbing to the infinite curiosity and not to mention the immeasurable energies of their children. Walking past the gardens and fountains of KLCC was like walking through a carnival, without all the fancy rides, but with every peel of excitement.

The path of squeals and laughter brought our crew to Kuala Lumpur’s newest landmark, a futuristic underground aquarium called Aquaria, located in the state-of-the-art Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, at the heart of the country’s busiest commercial district, and just five minutes from Suria KLCC’s most beautiful green lung. Yes, Kuala Lumpur is special like that.

Eager kids scurry about the entrance of Aquaria, enticed by an ultramodern projection clownfish and piped out underwater echoes. Mere teasers, we were told, of what lies within the aquarium complex.

Aquaria covers approximately 60,000 square feet, developed to cater to a projected 1.5 million visitors annually. Home to over 5,000 freshwater and marine creatures from 150 species, the aquarium is fully interactive and flaunts special emphasis on edutainment and a wholesome family experience.

There is a theatre just before you enter, running documentaries on environmental and marine conservation. The auditorium was packed with adults watching from the back of the hall while children took up the chairs and the floor space. Our crew, momentarily allured by the programme on leatherback turtles had to ruefully get back to more serious business: the dive.

More than two months of planning went into Aquaria’s virgin media dive. Aquaria’s head curator, Paul Hamilton, was all duty over glory about the dive. Only two divers were allowed to enter the Living Oceans aquarium. He was generous enough, though, to allow us to film a feeding session that morning. While the divers were briefed and rigged for the dive, the rest of us explored the multiple facets of Aquaria.

Aquaria’s aquatic experience is built to simulate a tropically themed journey. The first section is Evolution, which is a warped journey through time, right to the microscopic beginnings of marine life. Evolution opens up to Jewels of the Jungle, which simulates highland forest streams opening up to rivers. Here you can see hidden rainforest amphibians, reptiles, insects and other creepy crawlies from Arachnids to Poison Dart Frogs!

Then comes a flooded forest called Deep Forest, with incredible freshwater creatures from the Malaysian rainforest and the Amazon. Expect to be wowed by the likes of giant catfish and enormous Arapaimas.

The Coast is where the land meets the sea, and is an immensely fascinating section especially for the children, as it comprises a Touch Pool, with a chance to examine starfish, mud skippers, baby sharks and event stingrays as they glide across the pool’s sandy bottom. Did we put our hands in the water, you ask? Of course! And Chee Wah got his fingers nudged. Twice!

One can spend ridiculous spans of time just staring at the Living Reef aquarium. It really is that amazing. Brightly coloured Mandarin fish, Tomato Clownfish, Angelfish and friends swim through anemones, multi-hued soft corals and mounted hard coral reefs. The captivating symbiosis is almost hypnotic.

We arrived at Living Oceans just as the divers were about to enter the massive aquarium, proudly Aquaria’s main attraction. The aquarium sports a 90-metre underwater tunnel with a moving walkway. Visitors throng through this section of Aquaria in excited shout outs and surprised gasps. The tunnel creates the illusion of being immersed in deep oceans with just a 150mm thick acrylic glass separating them from this fascinating marine life.

The divers entered the water and the visitors, young and old, looked up with thrill. Kids tugged on their mother’s skirts pointing at the divers who hovered gracefully over the tunnel. Then a diver entered the aquarium with a pail, and everyone knew what was going to happen next. It was feeding time.

Our photographers and video crew were poised and ready underwater, in the tunnel and at the Aqua Theatre, a seven-metre acrylic window with a spectacular reef view of Living Oceans. Feeding time is certainly a very fun time. Not only do falsetto shrieks turn into wide-eyed mesmerised gazes, the fish swarm in by the schools. Sharks and manta rays soar majestically over the divers. All of a sudden, a spark of love for marine life is lit in the hearts of the visitors – Aquaria’s million-dollar prize, really.

Our divers got close to Aquaria’s prize exhibit, the rare Sand Tiger Sharks from South Africa. Aquaria utilises some of the most sophisticated salinity and pH control systems in their aquariums. Up to 700 litres of water is pumped out, cleaned and pumped back into the Living Oceans aquarium at any given time. Their divers and staff are helpful, dedicated and very knowledgeable, being able to spot signs of a sick or frazzled fish at a very early stage. Living Oceans is home to over 3,000 sea creatures and a replica of an actual Royal Nanhai wreck.

Last, and certainly not least, is the Weird & Wonderful section, with some of the most unusual and fascinating marine life ever, such as sea houses, frog fish and eels.

There are countless interactive information kiosks found all over the aquarium complex, with multimedia content that can be downloaded straight into your PDA or mobile phone. Simulated aquatic backdrops attract loads of photographs from visitors, and the Aquaria Gift Shop prints personalised souvenirs, such as postcards, posters, t-shirts and stickers.

Before we knew it, it was late in the afternoon, and our allocated three-hour visit had turned into a five-hour expedition. Our divers met us as we exited the aquarium. A party of children were still explaining to their parents about the different creatures they saw, but we never stopped talking about it all the way back to the office.

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