It has been a complicated year, the entire Loro Parque group, including Poema del Mar, has had to close its doors to safeguard the health of visitors and workers. How have you experienced these long months inside the aquarium?
Indeed, to safeguard the health of workers and visitors, Poema del Mar was forced to close its doors on 15 March, as was the case with the rest of the group's facilities. It has been, it is and it will be a very difficult period, above all because it is a pity that we cannot open our doors to a public that is eager to see our animals again.
However, for the whole team of biologists in charge of the direct care of the animals and for the technical team in charge of the maintenance of the facilities, there has been no change in routine since, evidently, the fish and the animals do not know about this situation, but require their care and attention 365 days a year, whatever happens.
It is good for us that life goes on. Because we are lucky that our work remains the same, that we can continue to see our animals healthy and that we even participate in events that are an achievement for science and biology, such as the birth of the leafy sea dragons.
For the company's president, Mr Kiessling, the health of the animals comes first. He has made that clear since the beginning of the pandemic by ensuring food and making sure we all stay healthy so we can continue to care for the animals. The sad side of all this is that we cannot open to the public at the moment.
One of the things that most worried the regular visitors was that the marine world they have in Poema del Mar was in perfect condition, something that is assured since they have not stopped working at any time. Is that true?
Indeed, we have not stopped. It is funny to meet friends and family who say that they have faced this time of pandemic with confinement included, since we have not had a single day of confinement, we have not stopped going to work while there was no one on the streets.
We have experienced this situation from a totally different perspective.
There is no doubt that Poema del Mar is a wonderful experience that brings the marine world closer to all those who want to see it up close, but we cannot forget the great work of conservation and research that is done here. Perhaps this is one of the most important parts, more so for you who are the technical director and curator...
This is undoubtedly intrinsic to our work, i.e. an important part of our work consists of understanding the biology of each species and its conservation, and we must also try to ensure that this knowledge can be applied in the natural environment. It is part of our work that what is learned with the animals in captivity is then used to help us take care of them in the wild, which is a very important task.
In fact, we are constantly involved in work with animals in nature thanks to the knowledge we have of the animals under human care.
You also do a great job of education and raising awareness with children which is very important. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, for 2020 all places for schools on the island were fully booked, because we like to share with them, with their enthusiasm and their capacity to surprise. It is important to share with the new generations what we enjoy and what we consider to be the basis for the care of our planet.
What do visitors find when they go to Poema del Mar?
Our tour is a journey of life connected to the element of water, starting with a trip through the area of South America, going through the jungles, different freshwater courses and how that fresh water leads to and ends up in the oceans. It is a journey in which we accompany the water in its natural cycle.
It is a little bit the perspective of the different ecosystems, all connected to water.
What kind of unique and rare species can be found in Poema del Mar?
There are numerous species, it is worth noting that in Poema del Mar we have more than 450 species of animals, with 30,000 living beings no more and no less, which we look after every day.
We have many peculiar species, recently the sea dragons have taken much prominence, as they are an endemic species of Australia that requires very special care, because they are very delicate animals. I highlight the presence of this species but I could name many others of fresh water, for example, we have chameleons, land turtles, different species of amphibians, seahorses, fish characteristic for their camouflage or for their poison...
There is a wide variety of interesting animals to see in Poema del Mar.
Poema del Mar is the first European aquarium capable of reproducing the Australian sea dragon, as we have mentioned, but what added value does this give the aquarium?
For one thing, it is a faithful reflection of the daily work we do. The care of these animals is very specific, they require a special type of food to be given daily, live food, for example. Any modification, however slight, to the quality of the water or stress caused by taking flash photos or knocking on the acrylic can be very disturbing for them. Sometimes the visitor may not be aware of this.
They are also animals that require veterinary care. If we detect any symptoms that the animal is not well, we proceed to a check-up.
This is a task that we carry out as a team, from the person who looks after the water, through the person who provides the specific food, to the veterinarian.
I imagine that in order to take care of such delicate species and countless animals it is necessary for the whole team to have extraordinary training. In that, to put it colloquially, you "go the extra mile", don't you?
Exactly, the truth is that our profession requires a lot of knowledge but I would say that the experience that has accompanied me throughout these years has given me passion in our work. There must be passion in this work because in the end you are sacrificing a lot of time. When people don't go to work, we must go, when an animal gets sick, we must stay with it, like a mother does with her child. Knowledge is acquired with training and experience, we can train a person who doesn't know about jellyfish, but the passionate side has to come intrinsic to the person.
From your point of view as a specialist, what distinguishes Poema del Mar from other aquariums in Europe or the world? What is so special about it?
The truth is that this is a tour on 12,000 square meters, in a very peculiar building from an architectural point of view, in which the wonder of nature is represented, despite being inside, from the jungle to the ocean.
We have the largest curved window in an aquarium in the world, called acrylic. This makes Poema del Mar unique. We have over five million litres of salt water in our main tank, where numerous species of sharks and rays live.
We provide the amazing opportunity to enjoy numerous species from the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Red Sea. In addition to animals of other species such as reptiles and amphibians.
Do you have any interesting projects you are working on now or in the medium term?
Yes, the truth is that we try to innovate. I cannot reveal much about what we are doing but I can comment that, from animal life, we know that it did not start with the animals that we have among us today but that prehistorically there were other animals that inhabited the earth and Poema del Mar wanted to take a step back in the history of biology.
We are going to present how the animals that we have today among us have evolved from the evolution of past species. This is a project we are working on today.
To conclude, are you looking forward to receiving thousands of smiles again in your facilities?
We really look forward to it and miss being able to share the wonders we have in our aquariums with the people who visit us. We are looking forward to opening the doors again when the situation allows us to do so.
The Poema del Mar Aquarium in Gran Canaria is a centre of scientific interest because it is the first centre in Europe to have succeeded in breeding 24 sea dragons, a special Australian species, born in April and July this year. This event is of great importance for research and science.
As was reported in good time, 24 sea dragons from two different clutches of this species, a related species to seahorses, were born in the aquarium's facilities, thanks to the care of experts and the excellent facilities available to them.
The aquarium is still closed due to the sanitary regulations due to Covid-19 and experienced the first eggs on April 28 with the birth of the babies last June and the second on July 21. Although they are currently only a few centimetres in size, they are growing up quickly in their new home.
Sea dragons are particularly sensitive to pollution of the sea, the presence of micro-plastics in the waters and the increase in temperature resulting from global warming, as they live in very specific conditions and in a small habitat whose destruction would have fatal consequences.
These animals live in a very specific area of southern Australia and require very specific conditions in terms of temperature, habitat, food and sensitivity. Sea dragons are very sensitive to changes, to light, noise and vibrations, which can affect them considerably.
GREAT NEWS FOR THE AQUARIUM, THE ISLAND AND THE SPECIES
As Alvaro Albela, the person in charge of the sea dragons and the saltwater area of the Poema del Mar, explained, they experienced this offspring as "great news", not only for the aquarium, but also for the island and the species, because "it was very difficult to achieve this".
It was therefore "very moving and rewarding" for the whole team and "a great reward for several years of work". The Poema del Mar's commitment to these sea dragons was clear from the very beginning, and a special tank was created for the welfare of this species when the facility was built, so that it could reproduce in Gran Canaria.
This tank is over three metres high, although sea dragons normally live in the seabed and only ascend for their courtship dance, a dance in which the female passes the eggs to the tail of the male through movements in which they rise intertwined from the seabed to the surface.
In addition, the aquarium has its own cultivation of the mysida on which these animals feed, the official marine emblem of South Australia, and which usually eat plankton, small crustaceans such as amphipods, mysid shrimp (Mysis) and larval fish (fish larvae), among others.
This new generation of sea dragons born on the island is fed with care and affection with pipettes, selecting one by one these mysida that they take as food to adapt the size to the growth of the small ones.
As Albela has acknowledged, the seven employees of this area lived this moment with great enthusiasm, because somehow sea dragons are "pampered children" in the Poema del Mar because of the animal's sensitivity and its particularities.
The sea dragon is unique in its species, just like the seahorse, which belongs to the Syngnathidae family, and it is the males who look after the eggs, something that takes place after a very special dance, usually in spring.
The fact that they have had babies and that they are growing up healthy in Poema del Mar is a sign that "they feel very comfortable" in the Gran Canaria aquarium, something that Albela and the team have been working on in detail since 2017 and which has not been achieved in any aquarium in Europe.
In a few months, when the little ones born in the month of June reach the right size, they will be able to move into the main tank, on display for visitors.
Their colours, which range from yellow to blue, red and violet with dots and stripes along their bodies, their strange physique which makes them look like mythical dragons, their particular shape which allows them to camouflage themselves between the algae in which they live, and the tranquillity conveyed by their floating way of moving are just some of the reasons why visitors are fascinated by them.
"Those who know this species and know how difficult it is to see them in an aquarium," said the responsible person, "will be impressed."
GRAN CANARIA HAS THE LARGEST COLLECTION OF THESE ANIMALS IN THE COUNTRY, WITH EIGHT ADULT SPECIMENS
Sea dragons (Phylloptery x taeniolatus) are a species that is particularly sensitive to environmental factors, protected because of its vulnerability and extreme peculiarity, which makes it a type of seahorse that is very difficult to breed in captivity.
In Spain they can only be seen in the Aquarium of Barcelona and in the Poema del Mar in Gran Canaria, which has the largest collection of these animals in the country, with up to eight adult specimens.
Only in Lisbon can so many sea dragons be seen together in Europe and, in the world, it is possible to see them in a few aquariums in the United States and Asia.
The Poema del Mar Aquarium was the venue chosen today for the presentation of the first CanBio results, a pioneering public-private research initiative financed with 2 million euros by Loro Parque and the Canary Islands Government and developed by research teams from the University of La Laguna and the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The aim of this network is to establish a data and monitoring network for parameters linked to climate change, ocean acidification, underwater noise pollution and the impact of all these on marine biodiversity in the Canary Islands.
Among the first results that cover the study of common environmental problems in the Macaronesia, the coordinator of CanBio and director of the Loro Parque Fundación, Javier Almunia, explained that they include the increase in temperature recorded on the coasts of Tenerife and the consequent transformation of the coastal habitat with the proliferation of tropical species that invade the depths. He added that "changes in the underwater acoustic environment are being studied, with the recent installation of a buoy in Gando and another soon to be installed in El Hierro, which measure noise in the sea and allow its effects on fauna to be studied, as well as the loss of marine biodiversity, the alteration of ecosystems and the disappearance of species". CanBio Canarias has become the only Spanish marine observatory to be integrated into the European network for monitoring ocean acidification.
At the press conference, the Councillor for Ecological Transition, the Fight against Climate Change and Territorial Planning, José Antonio Valbuena Alonso, highlighted the importance of public-private collaboration and stressed that "the core where decisions are made are the two Canarian universities of excellence that we have" and the research of this type carried out by the ULL and the ULPGC "provides more and more information, not only to combat the consequences and effects of climate change in the Canary Islands, but also in the global context", he said.
The research approaches that have been taken so far in these areas, according to the Rector of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Rafael Robaina, "did not address the problem in a multidimensional way" and CanBio proposes "research in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary way that will allow us to obtain more information to increase our knowledge about the oceans". He also stressed that although "we have a poor rate of investment in science in Spain in general, and in the Canary Islands in particular", thanks to the collaboration and support of the private sector in projects such as this, which "is an example of transdisciplinary science and public-private science, this is what we need for the future that lies ahead", he said.
For his part, the Vice-Rector for Research at the University of La Laguna, Ernesto Pereda, positively valued the fact that "despite the complicated situation that we are experiencing, Loro Parque Fundación is maintaining its support for R&D projects and getting involved in science, which allows this type of project to be carried out", as well as others that are being developed with the University of La Laguna. In this respect, the Vice-President of Loro Parque, Christoph Kiessling, thanked the Canarian universities for their commitment and support in this initiative, and valued its results as "very important for the conservation of biodiversity, which is also our main objective".
Poema del Mar has also closed its doors since the alarm state was declared, but life continues within its facilities. Thus, the staff works daily to ensure the welfare of all the animals and the aquarium invites its followers and visitors to immerse themselves in a new adventure every day through its social networks.
In line with the philosophy of the Loro Parque Company, Poema del Mar's priority is to ensure that the animals living in its facilities have all their needs covered and continue to receive all the care they need to ensure their maximum well-being. In addition, the aquarium is committed to ensuring that the staff work with all the preventive measures recommended by the authorities to keep them in good health.
Likewise, while the quarantine lasts, all those interested will be able to continue visiting the Poema del Mar facilities virtually thanks to the publications that the aquarium team is publishing on social networks with the hashtag #AtHomeWithPoemaDelMar, through which they can dive through the different exhibitions, learn curiosities about its enigmatic species and discover the wonders hidden in the oceans, seas and rivers of the planet.
This is a joint initiative with Loro Parque, which has also increased its digital content with the hashtag #AtHomeWithLoroParque and which is being very well accepted by the public, the staff works daily to ensure the well-being of all the animals and the aquarium invites its followers and visitors to immerse themselves in a new adventure every day through its social networks.
Two African Spurred Tortoises take a walk in the aquarium
Taking advantage of the fact that Poema del Mar is closed to the public, Miguela and Fernanda, two African Spurred Tortoises, have left their facility to explore the aquarium. This activity is part of a training program that has been developed by their caretakers. They have visited their neighbors the rays; they have walked over a
Mexican limestone cave; they have met the characters from Finding Nemo, and they have even seen sharks in the impressive Deep Sea.
Since it began its work at the end of 2017, the Poema del Mar aquarium has been working daily to become a reference point for species conservation. In fact, many of the species held in its installations are on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are under some degree of vulnerability or threat in their natural environment.
Different dangers, often caused by human action - such as overfishing and pollution - put populations at risk. Therefore, the role of this type of conservation center is especially relevant when it comes to raising awareness about the status of these species and contributing to their protection and survival.
In that sense, Poema del Mar also carries out important educational work, implementing activities to inform the schools of Gran Canaria, as well as families and different social groups about the important work carried out by these centers in the archipelago, as the aquarium does through its conservation tool, the Loro Parque Fundación. Thanks to this foundation the aquarium has become a reference point in the dissemination of marine information on the islands.
Spectacular underwater biodiversity
In its two years of operation, Poema del Mar has evolved into a large aquarium that invites visitors to take an exciting journey through the wonders of the lakes, rivers and seas of the planet, and finally to immerse in the depths of the ocean, thus discovering the most spectacular underwater biodiversity.
In addition, only in the last year, it has taken in numerous species in its exhibitions, such as the male African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus); two Whitetip reef sharks from Loro Parque, which live in Deep Sea, and two zebra sharks, also from Tenerife's zoo, named Famara and Miño, which can be seen in the Atoll. And it has also welcomed with great joy many animals born in its facilities, showing the welfare of the animals there.
This week it has been two years since Poema del Mar officially began its journey with a grand opening. Coinciding with the 47th anniversary of Loro Parque, the grand aquarium of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria celebrates two years of success in which thousands of visitors have been able to marvel at the spectacular biodiversity of the Blue Planet, in a journey that guides them through lakes, rivers and seas, until submerging in the depths of the ocean.
Recognized by the authorities of the Canary Islands as a project "of strategic interest to the region", with potential to strengthen the promotion of Gran Canaria and of the entire archipelago as one of the best tourist destinations at an international level, Poema del Mar has remained faithful to its commitment to innovation, biodiversity conservation and excellence in sustainable tourism.
Grey Sharks travel from Loro Parque to Poema del Mar
This year, Poema del Mar has received several gray sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) that arrived to the aquarium from Loro Parque and, after a period of quarantine, were moved to their new home at Deep Sea, an installation with the largest curved underwater window in the world. All belong to the second generation of this species born in the Zoo of Puerto de la Cruz thanks to the meticulous work of reproduction and breeding of the aquarium team.
‘Baby boom’ at Poema del Mar
In 2019 a baby boom has taken place in Poema del Mar, demonstrating the state of welfare in which all the animals are in its facilities. Thus, the aquarium has welcomed with great joy a baby African spurred turtle (Centrochelys sulcata), the first to be born in the aquarium; Madeira rays (Raja maderensis), and Kaiser's newts (Neurergus kaiseri), among other species.
A year of new entrants
In addition, the aquarium has added some new species to its exhibits, such as the male African bull frog (Pyxicephalus adspersus); two whitetip sharks from Loro Parque, which inhabit Deep Sea, and two zebra sharks also from the Tenerife zoo, named Famara and Miño, which can be seen in the Atoll.
Amazing ‘Deep Sea’
In its two-year history, it's all been words of wonder and admiration for Deep Sea, which has the world's largest curved underwater exhibition window, 36 meters wide and 7.35 meters high, as well as 39 centimeters thick. With a total tank depth of 8.5 meters and 5.5 million liters of water, Deep Sea allows you to observe, in a unique environment, the wonders of the deep oceans and about 3000 specimens of up to 40 different species that swim in its dark waters.
Commitment to conservation
Many of the species that Poema del Mar holds are on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are under some degree of vulnerability or threat in their natural environment. Various dangers, often caused by human action - such as overfishing and pollution - put populations at risk, so the role of conservation centers of this kind is particularly relevant when it comes to raising awareness for the state of the animals and contributing to their protection and survival.
Educational work as a pillar
Since its inception, and in line with the philosophy of the Loro Parque Company, Poema del Mar has carried out educational activities to familiarize the schools of Gran Canaria, as well as families and different social groups, with the important work carried out by the different research centers throughout the archipelago, the same way as the aquarium operates through the Loro Parque Fundación in wildlife conservation. Thus, Poema del Mar seeks to become a benchmark in marine research in the islands.
Poema del Mar from yesterday, Wednesday October 16, is now exhibiting three Sandbar Sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) to its visitors. Irma, Andrea and Samil, as the sharks are called, arrived at the aquarium last May from Loro Parque and, after a period of quarantine, have been moved to their new home in Deep Sea, the largest curved display window installation in the world. All three belong to the second generation of this species born in the portuense zoo, thanks to the meticulous work of reproduction and breeding by the aquarium staff.
After this phase of adaptation and acclimatization, and after proving that they continued to respond perfectly to the training to which they had been accustomed from a very early age in Loro Parque, these three specimens are already now sharing the space with five other species of sharks that inhabit the waters of the ‘deepest ocean’ in Poema del Mar: four Sand Tiger Sharks, four Nurse Sharks, three School Sharks, two Oceanic White-Tip Sharks and a Bull Shark.
More additions to the aquarium are expected soon for this species, which can live up to 45 years and reproduces only once every two years. They are viviparous animals, so the young are born fully developed and each female can give birth to between seven and ten specimens.
Irma, Andrea and Samil, like the other Sandbar Sharks that inhabit Loro Parque, act as perfect ambassadors for their fellow beings in the wild and help draw attention to the protection problems facing marine species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species includes 11 species of sharks, and it’s estimated that 100 million sharks die each year as a result of human consumption.
The Poema del Mar aquarium has recently received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, an award with which, the largest and most prestigious travel portal in the world values the high quality of its facilities based on the positive ratings of users.
"It’s very modern and offers several ecosystems in a very special way"; "a great option to discovering the marine species of the five continents, (...) not only for the exhibition, but also for teaching children and adults the importance of taking care of and preserving the environment", or "impressive, magnificent facilities with an enormous variety of marine fauna" are just some of the comments that the aquarium has been arousing from visitors.
In receiving this distinction, Poema del Mar consolidates its position as a project committed to innovation, biodiversity, conservation and excellence in sustainable tourism, reinforcing the promotion of Gran Canaria, and the entire archipelago, as one of the best tourist destinations on an international scale.
Recent incorporation to the Gran Canaria Blue Association
For some weeks now, Poema del Mar has been part of the association Gran Canaria Blue, an official brand of the island’s Tourist Board. This agreement expands and extends towards new horizons the range of possibilities of experiences linked to the sea that are offered through this platform, always under the same brand and with the common seal of certified quality of the associated companies.
The Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquariums: an important step
The aquarium has also recently announced its incorporation as a member of the Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AIZA), of which Loro Parque is also a member. This important step, which took place a little more than a year after its opening, has confirmed the high quality of its facilities, its work in education and protection and conservation of species.
Next Monday, December 17, will mark a year since Poema del Mar officially began its operations with a grand opening. Coinciding with the 46th anniversary of Loro Parque, the great aquarium of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria now celebrates a year of success in which tens of thousands of visitors have been able to marvel at the spectacular biodiversity of the Blue Planet, in a journey that guides them through lakes, rivers and seas, until submerging them in the deepest ocean.
Recognised by the authorities of the Canary Islands as a project "of strategic interest to the region", with the potential to strengthen the promotion of Gran Canaria, and the entire archipelago, as one of the best tourist destinations on an international scale, Poema del Mar has remained faithful to its commitment to innovation, biodiversity conservation and excellence in sustainable tourism.