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Family day out at National Marine Aquarium

There was a time in my life when I’m sure the fish at Plymouth’s National Marine Aquarium started to recognise me.

From about 2008 to 2014, my then very young kids and me spent A LOT of time here, sheltering from the rain and generally just enjoying being in a calm, relaxing place where we could be at one with nature and not watching Peppa Pig.

A lot has changed at the aquarium over the years but not my kids’ sheer enthusiasm for this place. Every time we visit is like the first time. They run excitedly up the ramp, climb the stairs and leg it into the rockpool zone where our journey through the world’s seas and oceans begins.

Our most recent visit was the first in a long time and Jake, nine, and Alice, seven couldn’t wait to show their young, London-based cousins exactly what crabs, lobsters and fish we have living in Devon’s waters.

The 17 rockpool displays and tanks in the Plymouth Sound section allow you get to get up close and personal with a range of native marine life, including starfish, rays and Denzel the boarfish.

Then it’s onwards and downwards to gaze at the enormous Eddystone Reef tank, full of shoaling mackerel, groups of bass and pollock, sharks and wrasse.

Short attention spans and deeper thinkers are catered for, with masses of visual stimulation for babies and plenty of information and helpful staff to encourage older kids.

     

Jake drew on his nine years of aquarium visits to stun one member of staff with his intricate knowledge of sawfish, dog whelks and limpets.

If only he could apply the same depth of knowledge to simpler everyday tasks, such as getting dressed/cleaning teeth/making his bed…

      

Anyway, with very small children in tow, we had to press on to the next thing quickly – the jellyfish. I love this bit, giant, circular tanks full of bonkers-looking creatures, drifting around and around like they’re in a washing machine. It’s mesmerising.

I could stare at them for hours but my two know that the jellyfish section is the gateway to the highlight of this place: the Atlantic Ocean tank - the deepest of its kind in the UK and the largest single tank with over two million litres of water.

This showstopper is home to a 2.5m lemon shark, sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, giant rays, including the only spotted eagle rays in Europe, barracuda (they are awesome) and loads more.

Casually flying through it all is the aquarium’s new resident, Friday the green turtle.

Outside the tank, it looks as though there have been lots of little tweaks to this section since we last came and the whole exhibit seems to flow better.

       

Not that the kids are bothered about flow. All they wanted to do was press their noses up against the curved glass and watch a shark glide over their heads. It’s a real test of a visitor’s mettle to see who flinches at the last minute when that toothy grin goes right past your face. It’s an extremely unnatural but amazing encounter that gets me every time.

We stay for ages and then make our way to the biozone. Alice always runs past the octopus, head forward and eyes right to avoid glancing a creature that has previously given her nightmares.

The rest of us stop to look at Miss Squishy, who has suckered all her suckers to the glass. Ewwwwww!

The tanks here are some of Jake’s faves, so we spend quite a bit of time watching the brightly coloured clownfish and elaborate (but invasive) lionfish before making our way to the grand finale: the Great Barrier Reef.

I have spent many an hour here, sat in the dim lighting, completely zoning out into the tropical waters in front of me, sometimes bottle feeding a baby or maybe just watching my toddler being quiet for a minute as Samson the grouper floats by.

It’s a great place to stop, think, gather the coats and brace yourself for exiting through the gift shop.

We all had a fab day, yet again. Thank you National Marine Aquarium for helping me get through those early child-rearing years and for inspiring my kids to love their oceans.

By Chrissy Harris

Find out more about National Marine Aquarium


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