PUBLIC AQUARIUMS IN RUSSIA: PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS
The 3rd International Conference hosted by the Saint Petersburg Public Aquarium will take place on May 23 to 25, 2018. We welcome all the representatives of public aquarium industry — designing engineers and builders, acrylic glass, equipment and decorations manufacturers, hydrobionts and foods suppliers, technical staff, ichtyopathologists, aquarists and consultants of local and foreign visitors.
Urban dwellers desperately need some positive emotions, and calm water and underwater world harmony are the things that do help. That’s why public aquariums — large educational and entertainment centres with mostly saltwater aquatic exhibitions — are getting more and more popular all around the world. What’s hidden underwater is fascinating and breathtaking, and people are dreaming of getting to know it. Public aquarium is a great opportunity to fulfill this dream while living far from warm seas. It’s not only a commercial but a social project, great for both locals and tourists.
Public aquarium is a complicated and diversified system, which includes vertically integrated activities such as: architecture, engineering, biotechnologies, animal science, nature protection, education.
According to Andrey Oppolitov, Chief Aquarist of Saint Petersburg Public Aquarium, management of large public aquariums has its benefits and problems. “The management of public aquarium is economically highly specific. It bears high risks and requires a lot of time and financial resources, not to mention personnel training. The costs are high so the recoupment takes a really significant amount of time. Maybe that is why the development of public aquariums in Russia is not so fast”.
Slow development of the sector is the current main problem, thinks Andrey. He mentions several reasons: imperfect laws and regulations, lack of funding and procurement, shortage of experts.
Oleg Ryabchuk, General Director of the Public Aquarium, considers current economic situation in Russia to be the one of the main problems of the whole sector. During the crisis the investors are less interested in “slow money” — rather expensive projects that require a payback of a few years. According to Oleg, the good news is that series of legal instruments have been actively elaborated recently to regulate the organizations involved with animals’ display business.
Heiko Bleher — prominent expert in aquatic biotopes, explorer, researcher, traveller, ichthyologist, photographer, filmmaker — generally agrees with Oleg’s opinion. “The education of aquatic and nature subjects in kindergartens, schools, universities is nearly completely missing. It is almost unknown to the young generation what an aquarium is. Only sometimes I have seen children and youngsters in public aquariums or pet shops, and if, there is not any real educational information there (not in public aquariums, nor in the shops). This is the real problem.”
To improve the situation Heiko believes “it is imperative to invite the best people, those that know and understand nature, persons that have knowledge about aquatic biotopes, if fresh, brackish or marine. It will not help, if you invite only ‘architects’, that is persons which build the aquariums. Normally the ‘architects’ have very little, or no knowledge about the biotope, the habitat.”. He also emphasizes the importance of professional education in the aquatic field.
However, the representatives of Saint Petersburg Public Aquarium do not share Mr. Bleher’s attitude towards Russian aquatic. According to Andrey Marchenkov, Deputy General Director of the Public Aquarium, local aquatic has been actively developed during last ten years, also due to intensive work of Saint Petersburg Public Aquarium. For example, Aqualogo company is holding annual conferences in Moscow dedicated to education and organization of aquaristic community. There are a few Saint Petersburg based companies that are focused on education of amateurs and kids — such as Training Centre of Saint Petersburg Public Aquarium, Environmental Biology Centre “Krestovsky Ostrov” and several others. In Vladivostok, Primorsky Aquarium hosts the most modern educational department with various programmes for children and students. So, currently the situation with public aquariums and aquatic education in Russia is getting better.
There are also some other positive trends to mention in the industry as we overcome the economic crisis. Andrey Oppolitov says: “Large public aquariums are designed and opened not only in capitals, but in other Russian cities — Novosibirsk, Kogalym. Some of the new projects are supported at the federal level, such as Primorsky Aquarium or currently building Public Aquarium of the Museum of the World Ocean in Kaliningrad”. Chief Aquarist of Saint Petersburg Public Aquarium believes that Primorsky Aquarium — one of the top ten public aquariums in the world — will soon become the leading scientific and educational aquatic centre in Russia.
According to Andrey, Third International Conference on base of Saint Petersburg Public Aquarium will contribute greatly to the positive developments in the area. The main purpose of the Conference is to bring together experts in the maintenance and construction of public aquariums, to exchange experience and business relations in design, construction and other aspects of maintenance of public aquarium complexes. This is essential for the productivity.
The representatives of Abyzz company, the returning sponsor of the Conference, are very positive about the event and local market prospects. They mention “the interest from many companies to attend this conference, with the goal to become a partner for projects and supplier to various customers through seeking contact. Public aquariums are a big chance for education”.