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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

From Rock Pools to the Deep Sea, Southampton’s Aquarium Showcases Marine Life

Although the National Oceanography Centre Southampton is well-known for its world-leading research, few people realise it also houses the fascinating Ocean and Earth Science seawater aquarium housing local fish, species from further afield and other marine creatures such as jellyfish, anemones and even a lobster.

Throughout the year, it is in demand by hundreds of students ranging from first years keen to learn more about life in the Solent before going out for on the University’s research vessel Callista to postgraduate and academic researchers involved in advanced projects; groups of local schoolchildren also visit to gain an insight into the natural world.

Aquarium manager Chris Sturdy is himself a Southampton graduate of Marine Biology and leaped at the chance to return home to take charge of its collection of creatures “I kept fish as a child and have always been interested in marine life,” he explains. “After graduating I worked at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary in Oban and at Chessington World of Adventures aquarium but I was keen to come back to Southampton to get involved in research and conservation again.” At NOCS, he is supported by assistant Biology Technician Beth Wills and student volunteers to make sure the marine life live in the best possible conditions.

Tanks can be isolated from the main system to give greater control over research parameters
New research tanks in the aquarium

The Southampton aquarium is important both for teaching students about the realities of the marine environment and supporting independent research. It has two 30,000 gallon underwater tanks which contain water pumped in from the dockside and circulated throughout the building. A major refurbishment programme is now underway and Chris is looking forward to introduce more people to the south coast's ecosystems. The £100,000 programme includes investment in new seawater tanks and cooling systems and better security systems.

Rocky the lobster

The star of the aquarium is Rocky the lobster, rescued from a fishmonger 12 years ago and a firm favourite with visitors. "People often remark they're surprised he's bright blue in colour but, of course, they only turn red after being boiled in a pot," says Chris. "You could say he's our mascot and he even has his own Twitter page." Earlier in 2013, NOCS provided a ‘nursery' for a thornback ray from Chessington that needed a quiet tank with space to grow. The University of Southampton has several collaborations with the popular tourist attraction in Surrey; staff help each other with various projects thanks to long-established collaborations.

There is much to see. A sea grass tank is home to goldsinny wrasse fish and dragonets together with the thornback ray, shrimps and sea stars. A kelp tank houses sole, lesser spotted cat sharks (formerly known as dog fish) and more wrasse. A simulated rock pool ("not a touch pool," insists Chris) illustrates the diversity of creatures that live in Solent waters and reveals how their camouflage keeps them safe from curious or hungry eyes.

PhD student Alastair Brown is looking into their response to elevated pressure
King crabs

Many of the creatures are the subjects of several academics' research projects. Dr Cathy Lucas works with jellyfish and her tanks of moon jelly polyps are at the aquarium. Dr Sven Thatje, who is interested in the evolutionary history of life in extreme marine environments, works with pressurised tanks to understand deep sea conditions. PhD students Amonsak Sawusdee is investigating the restoration of native oysters Ostrea edulis using raised broodstock reefs in Poole, Dorset and Alastair Brown is studying king crabs' response to elevated pressure.


They use sponges and seaweed to camouflage themselves.
A long-legged spider crab in one of

An enthusiast for marine biology, Chris is keen to spread the word about the aquarium and its fascinating creatures beyond NOCS. "Although we have been here for many years, many people in the city or even within the University do not know we are here. Many important oceanography centres around the world host facilities such as the Birch Aquarium at the University of California San Diego. I like to think we could aim to set up something similar in years to come.

The Ocean and Earth Science Aquarium is a unique education and research facility and Chris is also keen to continue to allow the university community to utilise its resources.

The aquarium is a useful facility to many groups across the university. The aquarium has hosted practical sessions and dissertation students from Biological Sciences, and outreach tours for schools and colleges, as well a facility for independent research projects from different individuals across the university. If you feel you could benefit from the aquarium’s facilities or you would like a tour, please contact Chris Sturdy on 26047.

Watch a video about our aquarium...

After graduating I worked at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary in Oban and at Chessington World of Adventures aquarium but I was keen to come back to Southampton to get involved in research and conservation again.

Chris Sturdy - Aquarium Manager
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