The people of Basel are set to vote on a project for a giant aquarium complex. Supporters believe the “Ozeanium” will contribute to environmental education and nature conservation. But opponents say the project is unsustainable.
After the local authorities gave the project the green light and approved the building of the city centre aquarium, opponents collected enough signatures to force a referendum that could overturn the decision. It takes place on May 19.
Zoo Basel external linkhas been planning the Ozeanium for about ten years. The Boltshauser external linkarchitects from Zurich came up with plans to house several thousand animals from all climates in about 40 aquariums, including one eight-metre-high single aquarium. This will be home to sharks, rays, penguins, corals and deep-sea dwellers, living in tidal zones. Domestic species such as eels and salmon could also swim along.
Construction on the aquarium is planned for 2021 and the opening for 2024. Some 700,000 visitors a year are expected.
The animals and plants in the ocean are to be sourced from “sustainable catch”. Jellyfish and coral would come from the breeding stocks of Zoo Basel and other breeders. The zoo wants to attract international attention at a time when visitor numbers are stagnating.
The building is projected to cost CHF100 million ($100 million) and is to be financed by donations. Basel Zoo has already pledged CHF57 million, CHF5 million of which is said to be from a private foundation in Geneva. The idea is to make the Ozeanium self-supporting financially. The running costs are estimated at CHF4.8 million a year.
The environmental protection foundation Franz Weber considers the project unsustainable and submitted an objection, proposing instead a virtual aquarium: Vision Nemo.
"Vision Nemo solves a problem that conventional large aquariums exacerbate: the exploitation of the oceans through the trade of animals for aquariums," says the project website.
Computer animation, interactive projection and other technologies would be used in a large auditorium.
After the Basel parliament rejected Vision Nemo and voted in favour of the zoo's project, the Franz Weber Foundationexternal link launched a referendum together with the Green Party and other organisations entitled NOzeaniumexternal link. They collected more than twice the number of signatures required to launch the vote.
They are against the idea of importing animals from around the world for the new Ozeanium. This has the potential to lead to “animal suffering” and “weakens ecosystems”, they say.
Basel zoo director Olivier Pagan contests the claims, saying that seeing the creatures at the Ozeanium will encourage visitors to care for their ecosystems.