Nausicaa Boulogne: We’re all islanders now
The ocean is an underwater treasure trove, life support and global resource. It covers nearly ¾ of the globe, with no real borders or boundaries. But have you been down to the sea lately? How well do you know it? What’s in it? Where has it been? And where is it going? Nausicaa; the National Sea Centre for France, takes us to its core and asks if we are all guilty of neglect?
What hidden perils lie beneath?
Here’s an idea for the summer holidays and something obvious to do before you are 11 and 3/4. Go for a swim in the sea. A simple pleasure, huh?
Not just pleasure; treasure!
But be careful what you bump into. If you take a dip today you might find one of 4,756,940 pieces of Lego that accidentally fell into the water off the coast of England in 1997. You might catch a toe on one of the 39,466 pairs of sports shoes lost somewhere in the Pacific in the early 90’s. And if you spot a duck then don’t be alarmed, it might just be one of 29,000 bath toys dropped by a Hong Kong ship. The ocean is one of our most important environments. Yet how many of us care about or care for it? Do we even know what lies beneath?
Much more than an aquarium
Nausicaa, Europe’s largest sea centre, tackles these issues through a mix of education and entertainment. At its simplest level it’s an aquarium. But it’s more than a family attraction. It is ‘a centre of scientific and technical discovery of the marine environment and a study of man’s relationship to the sea.’ It discovers and records the stories of islanders. It promotes conservation programmes around the world. It is a UNESCO Centre of Excellence.
And set on the sea front of Boulogne, the first port of France, it is a beacon reminding us that the sea matters. Perhaps it hopes that if you’re a family who doesn’t swim in the sea then you might be a family who visits aquariums?
I didn’t think we were an aquarium family
This family isn’t. While we love a swim and were inspired and intrigued by the cross channel swimmers we met on Dover beach just before leaving England, we don’t do aquariums much. Fish are boring aren’t they? They don’t speak and they don’t do tricks. They’re less friend and more food in our house, and we don’t even eat them much. For us, the ocean is just something that’s out there, doing its thing.
But then somewhere during a visit to Nausicaa, our opinions change.
A whole blue planet in one building
Naussicaa is popular and busy with kids and parents. It has pretty fish and scary predators that you find in many aquariums. But it is bigger, newer and more atmospheric than any aquarium I’ve visited. Its revolving globe at the centre draws you upwards through a dark building filled with angled platforms, blue screens and dark tanks. Escalators lead you around a blue planet where fragile sea dragons, luminous jellyfish and battle faced sharks coexist with the help of glass barriers to keep them safe from each other. There are two giant tortoises, ten years old and lumbering around looking for food.
“They’re a bit like dinosaurs aren’t they?” says Cameron.
A bit. But not very much. From where you stand in the tropical lagoon, with the café in your sightline, it’s all very peaceful and unthreatening.
Peaceful, unthreatening… and scary
The scary part of this centre is the words and the pictures. You have to read, and then you wish you didn’t.
It’s all going pear shaped
While the fish carry on as though nothing has changed, and the majority of the human population do the same, the sea is reshaping our world, driven on by global warming and human hedonism. The ocean is untamed and fast encroaching on island life. The coral that used to protect against rising sea levels has been slowly eroded, leaving islanders vulnerable and exposed. On Takuu atoll the sea has flooded crops, and destroyed them with salt. Elsewhere fertilisers have encouraged seaweed, depleting oxygen levels for other species. Oyster fishing has destroyed mangrove. Overfishing has reduced food stocks. Plastic bags that have been made in one second have been languishing in the sea for 100-400 years, poisoning unwitting inhabitants. The venomous lion fish, accidentally introduced to the Caribbean, are upsetting food chains by laying eggs in batches of 30,000. And 450 thousand million euros a year is spent on tourism; a bill that is ultimately paid by the planet.
“The environment is one of the most important aspects of peace, for when our resources diminish, we fight for the little that remains,” says Wangeri Maathai, Nobel winner and environmental activist. I read this quote in a display on the wall while the kids look at cute penguins. it’s a sobering thought.
We are all islanders now
The reality, as Nausicaa so elegantly points out, is that an island isn’t just something that exists in the Caribbean or the Pacific. Your planet is an island in space. Your continent is an island in the sea. Whether you think about it consciously or not, you are dependent on the ocean for your stability and your food resources. And in our lifetime we have all seen what a Tsunami can do. Just because it hasn’t happened to us, it doesn’t mean it won’t. We are all islanders now.
Sea lion or human being?
“What would it be like to be a sea lion?” asks Hannah as we watch a show where five sea lions perform for an audience. We debate it at length. You get to swim all day with your family. (A positive) To eat fish forever (yuk yuk -a negative) You are prey to jackals and hyenas and sharks. (a big no-no all round.)
But when the sea makes a bid for more than the 72% of land it already covers, when it floods the islands we have left, would be better to be sea lion than human?
We both agree it would. And you can be sure we’d find out more about our ocean.
How many aquariums send you home thinking that?
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Nausicaa and the Boulogne Sur Mer Tourist Office for hosting us to enable you to bring you this story. The experience, views and opinions expressed remain, as ever, entirely our own.