Public aquariums are a staple of many countries and some larger cities may even have more than one, but when we heard that the tiny island nation of New Caledonia had an aquarium we went in with very modest expectations. However once we spotted an authentic mangrove display just a few steps inside the exhibits we knew that we would be in for a treat once we got to see their reef tank.
We had forgotten that the Aquarium des Lagons was home to the oldest stony coral growing in captive aquariums and the pedigree that must come with that kind of longevity. Normally we expect to see public aquariums cater to the general public with an abundance of big fish, sharks, sawfish, sea turtles and lots of megafauna but the Aquarium des Lagons really succeeds at showcasing the wide diversity of marine life that lives along the shores of the island, from the mangroves to the outer reefs.
The mangrove exhibits were authentically recreated with mudskippers, fiddler crabs, live mangrove trees and tidal fluctuations with some of the trees being more than 15 years old. There were multiple tanks featuring seagrass and caulerpa beds and the fish and invertebrates normally found living among them such as shrimpfish and kuiter’s leopard wrasses. A wide multi chambered lagoon display packed with clams and corals gave way to the first of many extra large coral reef displays that was filled from top to bottom with extra large colonies that have been growing for over a decade, including a 20 year old Coscinaraea columna and their 50 year old Echinopora that has long since been propagated in multiple colonies.
This ten to fifteen thousand gallon reef tank was the smaller reef tank with the larger reef display being closer to 30,000 gallons and once again, filled with corals across its 20 to 30 foot length. There is so much growth of live stony corals that the exhibit also comfortably houses an assortment of coral-eating species like the orange spot filefish, and triangular & redfin butterflyfish, both of which are very rare to see thriving in an aquarium setting.
A third jumbo reef tank was closer to 100,000 gallons featuring a large, 10 year old grey reef shark, a zebra shark, and a bluefoot grouper that is too lazy to snack on the harem of femininus wrasses, watanabe angelfish, starcki damselfish, and a cloud of purple queen anthias among many other species. The Aquarium des Lagons doesn’t just have Nautilus on display but they also are one of only two public aquariums that breeds and raises Nautilus and we were fortunate to see a whole crop of the tiny cephalopods including one that was merely days old.
We want to thank Jeff Dubosc for the intense and thorough tour of this very special public aquarium exhibit which has a ton of aquaristic touches that visiting reefers will certainly take notice of.