As an angler I guess it is inevitable that I have always been fascinated by aquariums and can remember clearly the excitement of viewing fish at close quarters within seaside aquariums whilst on holiday in Cornwall. The aquariums at Looe and Fowey were always fixtures on our annual family holiday to Cornwall especially if the weather was a little inclement.
During the Combe Martin SAC Fun Fish in September the Ilfracombe Aquarium team got involved and an invite to visit the aquarium that is tucked away in a corner of the pier car park followed. Hard to believe that the aquarium has been running for over fifteen years and is expanding its range of exhibits each year.
Pauline and I were greeted by Senior Aquarist Steve Corcoran who immediately made us welcome and infected us with his enthusiasm for the venue. The aquarium displays an amazing array of over 75 species to be found in the waters of North Devon from rivers high on the moors to the sea off Ilfracombe.
The exhibits are carefully chosen with only fish that are suitable for a captive environment selected. The welfare of the fish is undoubtedly paramount with all the fish in good condition and the tanks exceptionally clean.The aquarium are working to assist CEFAS based in Lowestoft with species acquisition. Several dragonets have been donated this year for breeding trials. They, however do not regulate our zoo license as such. A zoo license is issued through North Devon Council with practices needing to comply with Secretary of State ‘Standards of Modern Zoo Practice’ 2012. DEFRA are the public body that regulates these standards. . Any fish that outgrow their tanks have to be transferred to other aquariums such as Plymouth. For this reason large fish such as conger are not kept as they can grow very quickly and become aggressive if not fed frequently.
The whole place had a sort of Tardis like feel with far more on display than the exterior appearance of the building suggests. The display boards on the walk around are filled with fascinating facts about the environment, history and the array of captive creatures. Partnership with environmental groups such as the Marine Conservation Society and Exmoor National park is clearly evident.
The large seawater tank held a splendid selection of good sized fish from local waters including thornback ray, small eyed ray, spotted ray, pollock, bass, tub gurnard, grey mullet and plaice.
Surprisingly though it was not the big fish that we found to be most captivating but the smaller fish such as the dragonets with their stunning sapphire eyes and bristling demeanor. Pipefish, gobies, topknots, sole and sand smelt were amongst other fascinating fish on display.
Other fascinating creatures were the tiny cuttlefish that had an almost alien appearance as they hovered within the water coming alive when Steve added some particles of food to the tank. Watching the way fish feed is an interesting aspect of the aquarium that will I feel fire the imagination of any visiting angler. Ammo Frozen baits are amongst the suppliers of food to the aquarium who are keen only to use fish that are caught using sustainable methods.
I was delighted to discover that some of the pouting swimming in the tanks were provided by anglers taking part in one of our previous fun fishing events.
The complex has a pleasing top deck where a coffee and a snack can be enjoyed alfresco with a lower eating area if the weather is not kind.
The gift shop has an array of quirky and fishy goods to tempt members of the family. I would highly recommend a visit before the venue closes for the winter at the end of November.