Aqaba Aquarium Jordan’s marine research facility & tourist attraction

(Photos: Efrend Majdoubeh, Jordan News)
Aqaba is known for its diverse environment: from mountainous areas, a sea rich with marine life, to hotels and resorts that cater to the needs of domestic and international tourists. Among all the tourist attractions, one place seems to slip under the radar in discussions about Aqaba.اضافة اعلان

The Aqaba Aquarium, located 10km from the city, is a small yet special exhibit that showcases the distinctive wildlife of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. Visitors can experience a wide variety of sea fauna, including lionfish, parrotfish, moray eels, turtles, and lethal stonefish, according to the city’s tourism website.

The aquarium is part of the Marine Science Station (MSS), a research institute operated by the University of Jordan and Yarmouk University. The station, founded in the 1970s, was established to help scientists and post-graduate students to research the Red Sea’s ecosystem and to create environmental management projects. Its monitoring programs help define the environmental baseline characteristics of the Jordanian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, according to the MSS’ website.

Initially, the exhibit was used to house the wildlife being studied by researchers at the science station, but they quickly realized the public’s curiosity was piqued, and curious passers-by would come and visit the fish.

In 1980, the facility became an aquarium and opened to the public. Entrance fees were introduced; JD0.5 for children aged 6–12, JD1 for Jordanians and residents, and JD7 for foreigners.

The aquarium draws 80,000 visitors each year, the majority of whom — 80 percent — are Jordanian tourists. Only 10 percent of the visitors are foreigners. Children also comprise half of all visitors.

Jordan News interviewed Dr Ali Al-Sawalmih, the MSS’ director and an associate professor of marine physics at the University of Jordan, who said that the aquarium was created to allow “locals to enjoy the beauty of life under the sea without diving”. According to the director, the exhibit is the only non-commercial aquarium in the country, adding that visitors often misunderstand the primary purpose of the facility, which remains research and not business.

“The reviewers and visitors have high expectations; they expect something bigger and different,” the director said, adding that what makes the exhibit special is not its size or scale, but that the animals on display are specific to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea.

Populating the aquarium, which is still used to house fauna being studied by the MSS, comes with a host of challenges, foremost of which is the environments of the tanks used to house the animals. Every enclosure is expected to mirror the occupants’ natural environment as closely as possible, Sawalmih explained. The variables involved include everything from water temperature and salinity to the variety and placements of plants in the tank. Furthermore, ensuring the health of the animals and their enclosure’s upkeep is a continuous endeavor.

The majority of the aquarium’s residents are specific to the region, the director said. The MSS’ dive teams work seasonally, in order to target specific animals that travel to the area within certain time frames.

“There is no specific theme of the types of animals that they catch for the exhibit, but they prioritize catching those which are high in quantity and are by no means considered endangered or close to extinction,” Sawalmih said. Despite this assurance, the director did concede that at least one of the aquarium’s residents, a hawksbill sea turtle, is categorized as “critically endangered” and is being showcased to raise awareness, for study, and for protection.

Occasionally, there are places that one stumbles upon, often spontaneously, that are, simply put, underrated. The Aqaba Aquarium at the Marine Science Station, though small, derives its significance not from its size or grand scale, but rather from its vital mission and the opportunity it provides to see more unique and distinctive sea animals.

Only 10km from the city center, and on the road toward Tala Bay, visitors should consider a pit stop at the only non-commercial aquarium in Jordan.

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