The Sevstopol Sea Water Aquarium-Museum (the Aquarium, for short) is one of the oldest public aquariums in Europe and the oldest sea water aquarium. It was established in 1897 by the Sevastopol Biological Station. It is not just the oldest Russian station but the fifth one in the world by time of its foundation.
The idea of the Aquarium creation belongs to Alexander Kovalevsky, the first director of the Sevastopol Biological Station.
He reached out for construction of a special building for the biological station with a sea water aquarium on the coast of the Sevastopol Bay where the Nikolaevskaya Battery was situated before. So that the construction met the world standards Alexander Kovalevsky visited France and Italy to study business structures of Naples, Villafranchiane, on the Mediterranean Sea, Arkaron, on the Atlantic coast. Back then the Aquarium had the only room displaying inhabitants of the Black Sea. The room of the sea water aquarium bulged from the north-west side of the building as a four-cornered terrace. Seven wall-mounted aquariums of 18 cubic meters (635.6 cubic feet) in total volume and a central reservoir of 24 cubic meters (847.5 cubic feet) in volume were inside the room. All aquariums were filled with fish fauna of the Black Sea. The Aquarium was opened to public free of charge three days a week (Sunday, Monday, and Thursday). Scientists of the Station delivered lections on the life of the Black Sea for organized groups of visitors. It was even before the Aquarium was opened to public when the scientists of the Station collected and made collections of Black Sea fish.
Creation of the museum and further activities of the sea water aquarium are connected with the name of the greatest Russian aquatic biologist and academician Sergey Zernov who managed the Station from 1901 to 1914. Because of tight economic situation of the Station Zernov started charging an entrance fee to the Aquarium. Since 6th April, 1904, visitors had to pay three days a week, on the other days the Aquarium was opened free of charge. In 1902, the Station Museum was established. Its collections were replenished with biological materials found in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The Museum developed slowly due to lack of space. Thanks to Sergey Zernov a southern wing was built on the Station building in 1912. The Museum was placed there.
"...It is a museum where the staff scientists will centre all the results of their Black Sea researches and enable the next generations of Station staff to easily study the Black Sea fauna and its distribution and move further in their researches of the Black Sea. And those who will work at the Station will always have a chance to easily and visually acquaint themselves with the materials the Black Sea can provide them with… It is needless to say about educational mission of the Museum for its visitors." (Sergey Zernov)
The First World War of 1914 made it impossible to work in the sea. Years of this war, the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War (1917–1922) put the Station in a predicament. It could hardly continue its operation and keep its valuable property and the Aquarium. During this period, L. I. Yakubova was a director of the Station.
Only after the Soviet Power had been set up in the Crimea in 1920, the Station started to function again under the supervision of V. N. Nikitin despite the extreme economic insecurity. The Aquarium was opened to public every day except Monday. In 1925 it was visited by 16,260 people including 8,100 sightseers. In 1926, after 26 years of living in the Aquarium, a valuable sample of Beluga died there.
In 1928, the Aquarium and a part of the Museum were opened to public six days a week. Red Army Men and Red Navy Men as well as local school children were allowed to see the collections free of charge. 20,196 people including 11,391 sightseers visited the Aquarium for a year. The basic collection numbered 15,880 items including 526 exhibited items.
In 1934 and 1935, a northern wing was built on the Station. Architecturally it resembled the southern wing. The third storey was also built on the central part of the building. A separate room was given to the Museum in the new wing. In 1934, Alexander Zguridi and Boris Dolin scripted, directed and shoot a popular-science film "Deep in the Sea" in the Sevastopol Aquarium.
The city of Sevastopol was ruined but the Aquarium was lucky to be just partially destroyed during the Second World War. The exposition was small in that time but unfortunately it was irretrievably lost because of hard frosts and continued bombardments.
After Sevastopol was liberated on 9th May 1944, Doctor of biological sciences and Professor Vladimir Vodyanitsky was appointed as a director of the Sevastopol Biological Station. The most important events in the history of the Aquarium, its reconstruction and building of a new aquarium, are connected with the name of Vladimir Vodyanitsky. 1948 through 1950 a new building was constructed and a sea water aquarium was installed.
In summer of 1951, the Aquarium was opened to public. Vladimir Vodyanitsky wrote, "This year the Station Aquarium has been reconstructed and opened again. It acquaints its visitors with main floral and faunal forms of the Black Sea." The Aquarium was situated downstairs and occupied a special part of the Station building. It had 12 wall-mounted aquariums and a central reservoir of 45 cubic metres (1,589 cubic feet) in volume. The Aquarium had 30 species of Black Sea animals including very rare "guests" such as sea-devil and John Dory. The same year a publishing house of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine issued a guide-book "The Aquarium of the Sevastopol Biological Station named after A. Kovalevsky" under the editorship of Vladimir Vodyanitsky.
In 1958, biological resources of oceans and seas were studied hard as a result sea expeditions became very popular. The scientists of the Station participated in expeditions and brought interesting exhibits for the Museum. In 1959, the Aquarium had already over 30 various sea inhabitants. As years went by, the flow of sightseers increased. Once in summer of 1962, the number of visitors reached 4,000 people.
In the early 1960s, the Sevastopol Biological Station was reorganized as Institute of Southern Seas Biology. At the same time, construction of the second room of the Aquarium began.
By 1965, the Institute building was expanded and a new Aquarium was constructed. In spring of 1966, the Aquarium-Museum of Institute of Southern Seas Biology of Ukraine was opened to public. Its exposition occupied three rooms. The central 12-faced room housed twelve wall-mounted aquariums and an open central reservoir of 150 cubic metres (5,297 cubic feet) in volume. Forty five species of Black Sea animals were placed in these aquariums. Two other rooms were designed for the Museum. The first room was the museum of flora and fauna of the Black Sea. The second room was the museum of fauna of tropical seas.
"Major efforts have been taken to organize the Museum…. The collections and exhibits have been perfectly mounted and decorated, furnished with great drawings and explanations. It is not just a biological but also ocenagraphic museum." (Vladimir Vodyanitsky).
During the existence of the Aquarium, extensive practical experience in keeping of various sea animals in artificial conditions has been gained. Every year, the collection of tropical sea animals is significantly replenished with rare samples of ocean fauna thanks to donations of collectors, the scientists of the Institute.
In 1994, the equipment was gradually reconstructed and modernized. New closed water-purification systems make it possible to keep tropical fish and invertebrate animals sensitive to the quality of water in conditions of the Aquarium. Special salt mixtures are used to prepare water.
The Sevastopol Aquarium-Museum is a widely known cultural and educational institution. Every year it is visited by about 100,000 people. The total area of the Aquarium and Museum exposition is about 200 square metres (239.2 square yards).
Now four rooms of the Aquarium are opened:
– The first room displays typical inhabitants of coral reefs. Small aquariums let visitors examine small fish, shrimps, and invertebrate animals in all details.
– The second room has two independent sections: the Black Sea and the tropics. Twelve wall-mounted reservoirs of up to 7 cubic metres (247.2 cubic feet) in volume each and a round reservoir of 9 metres (29.5 feet) in diameter and 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) deep are situated there. Every aquarium of the tropical section has an independent (separate) closed water preparation and purification system. Such systems allow keeping tropical sharks even in artificial conditions.
– The third room has an extended collection of tropical exotic animals, inhabitants of Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
– The last room is a home for fresh-water animals and reptiles. It is also there where a very interesting aquarium is situated. It has a green-house and imitates ruins of an ancient Cambodian temple.
The aquariums are decorated with artificial coral reefs. All decorations are made of acrylic plastics according to original designs. The applied material is durable, non-toxic and absolutely safe for living inhabitants of the aquariums. Fastidious tropical fish and invertebrates feel well amidst the artificial rocks and corrals.
In 1999, the old Aquarium was reconstructed. A new exposition of exotic fresh-water fish and reptiles has been placed there. The aquariums are also equipped with closed water purification systems. Decorations made of acrylic plastics reproduce typical habitats of the represented fish.
Heated terrarium cages have been constructed to keep exotic reptiles. Decorations are made of reinforced concrete according to original designs. This material allows creating perfect imitations of hard rocks, woods, etc. of almost any size. Concrete constructions are protected and waterproofed with advanced materials. After finishing coat is performed, the decorations look like natural corners of the Earth. Water preparation systems, illumination and decorations are performed by employees of the Sevastopol Aquarium.
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