Southend – gateway to the seaworld
Matt Thompson and his young family fall hook, line and sinker for Southend’s Sea Life Adventure aquarium. Our planet is a fascinating place. From the rainforest to the desert; the creepy crawlies in your garden to the kings of the jungle, the natural world is a never-ending “wow”. And nowhere is that truer than in our seas and oceans. Of course, you don’t have to charter your own submarine to appreciate the wonders in our waters. With your family in tow, just take a trip to your nearest aquarium. For us, that nearest aquarium is in Southend.
Built for youngsters
We visit the Sea Life Adventure aquarium during holiday time, and as you’d probably expect, it’s packed with kids and their parents. In another venue that could be frustrating. Not so much here. The place is built for youngsters.
So squids swim among skulls, angel fish dart through anchors, and turtles trundle over treasure chests. If there’s a little pirate in your party, they’ll love all this. The educational elements of the centre aren’t presented on boring, text-heavy panels either. Instead they’re on push button machines that light up and talk back at you, or on interactive digital floor mats. It’s presented like an adventure, and it sweeps you along with it.
Included among the displays are stingrays, jungle frogs, starfish, crabs, crocodiles and jellyfish. As is now standard for every aquarium, there’s a display of clown fish, too. If you want to see it, it’s impossible to miss – just follow the constant cries of “Nemo, Nemo” from the attraction’s young visitors.
Walking around the centre, some of the exhibits are in big tanks, others tiny portholes. But the most impressive part of the aquarium is the underwater tunnel, which sees visitors surrounded above and to the sides by gallons and gallons and gallons of water. Slowly wandering through, sharks float overhead and all sorts of other fishy creatures swim up close and personal.
Immersed in sea life, it’s entirely otherworldly and has our two youngsters staring up and about, amazing in this oceanic landscape all around them.
Today there’s a member of staff in this area, too, answering questions and offering fascinating titbits to anyone that’ll listen. Clearly passionate, she pitches her dialogue mainly at the kids, even allowing them to get their hands on a shark’s jaw bone, complete with rows of once-deadly teeth. She’s outwardly enthusiastic, and like everyone at the centre clearly wants others to share in her gusto for the sea world.
Knowledge is happily shared
In a separate area of the aquarium there’s a hands-on educational centre where kids are invited to touch starfish and mussels, and encouraged to learn more about sea life native to the Essex coast by talking with another of the friendly members of staff. Just down from there is a fish hospital. Here eggs are incubated, tests are carried out and sea creatures that are unwell are nursed back to full health.
On our visit a row of mermaid’s purses – translucent shark egg cases – are in a special hatching tank. Today there’s a bustle around the display, because just a few hours earlier an embryo inside one of the barbed, leathery purses started wriggling about for the first time. It’s strange to think this tiny, tadpole-like creature is destined to become a deadly predator. It takes quite some persuading for the kids to believe we’re not spinning them a tale when we say it will one day grow up to be a shark. Even after some talking to, I’m still not convinced they totally buy it. It’s one of nature’s little amazements, and like many other exhibits on this trip, it leaves them youthfully befuddled.
In total there are more than 40 displays, and the aquarium is full of personnel that know everything about all of them. Throughout our visit their knowledge is happily shared. So at feeding time in the seahorse display someone gives a talk on the natural habits of these fawned-over creatures. Later, beside another tank, we’re told how some turtle species are becoming rarer and rarer because of human activities.
With a passion that is genuinely infectious, it’s the staff that makes the place.
A promenade pleasure
There’s no getting away from it – Southend doesn’t have the biggest aquarium. Nor the widest range of specimens on display. Yet, despite that fact, what it does have is very possibly the friendliest aquarium you’ll come across. And that’s what makes it such a promenade pleasure. It’s inspirational and fun, and will no doubt pique the interests of future explorers. If your little ones are already fascinated by ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘Reef’ and other cartoon fish, they’ll love seeing the real thing at Sea World Adventure. Take them along and there’s every chance they’ll become hooked on the sea world for life.
About Matt Thompson
Having started out as a student music journalist back in the late 90s, today Matt spends his days writing, editing and talking about reporting styles for a variety of publications and organisations. He’s keen on Britpop and photography, and wears out running shoes more frequently than his wallet would prefer.