Anglesey Sea Zoo: preserving Britain’s underwater world

Anglesey Sea Zoo is one of many family attractions offering discounts to Snowdonia Pass holders. Our blogger spent a morning at the attraction learning about the hidden gems in Britain’s waters, and about the steps Anglesey Sea Zoo is taking to protect them.

Whatever you think you know about British wildlife, prepare to have this challenged when you visit Anglesey Sea Zoo. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person with pretty good general knowledge, but I was utterly amazed to learn of some of the creatures that live in the waters around Britain which I’d thought only lived in ‘exotic’ places. You’ll see tanks of starfish, octopi, anemones and much more at Anglesey Sea Zoo – and every single creature you see is native to Britain.

The first thing that struck me as I entered the foyer to await my guides – Anglesey Sea Zoo’s owner, Frankie Hobro and its marketing officer, Rhian Lloyd-Hughes – was the wonderful briny smell coming from the huge tanks of lobsters, turbot, mullet and wrasse.

As Rhian explained, the water in these tanks is fresh from the Menai Strait; there’s a pump house which brings seawater in at high tide. No chemicals are involved so it’s a totally natural environment for the tanks’ inhabitants and so the creatures’ behaviour is more natural as a result. This is a totally unique set-up – no other aquaria do this without chemicals.

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Commencing our tour, we saw some very menacing-looking Atlantic wolf fish, whose tank has to be chilled because they’re found deep in the coolest seas around the very north of Great Britain and Scotland. Throughout the tank were some of the anemones and starfish that come in with the tide. I would see many more – of several varieties – before my visit was over.

Next, we saw the octopi. Britain has two sorts, I learned: common and lesser. It’s the lesser octopus that’s most common around these parts, and they’re extremely intelligent creatures who need to be kept entertained – and that’s why there were toys in the tank with them!

We moved on to look at an enormous tank of starfish and anemones. The ‘sun star’ is a good example of the ones people don’t realise we have in this country, Rhian tells me. They grow to be massive, and they are carnivorous.

Tanks of moon jellyfish (which don’t sting) filled one wall, and hanging from the ceiling were dozens of jellyfish made from paper plates and plastic carrier bags. Frankie and Rhian told me about their programme to educate children about the fact that leatherback turtles – also resident in British waters, I was astounded to learn – eat jellyfish and can eat plastic bags by mistake. Eating the bags causes massive harm to the turtles and so educating people about disposing of rubbish sensibly is one of the many areas of marine conservation that Anglesey Sea Zoo is involved in. Another is beach clean-ups, which the zoo recruits volunteers to help out with. Any rubbish they find is logged on a global database of beach litter.

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Frankie tells me that marine conservation is her background; she worked for many years for the Gerald Durrell Wildlife Trust based mostly in the Indian Ocean, and this has fed her passion for her work. Her passion is inspiring many other people, too; for example, local fishermen are working closely with Anglesey Sea Zoo on lobster conservation and other sustainable fishery projects.

One of my favourite exhibits in the zoo was the tank of plaice. These funny googly-eyed fish are extremely curious and love to interact with their audience. They reminded me of underwater puppies – silly and playful and friendly. I haven’t eaten meat for years and now I’m going to have to add plaice to my don’t-eat list. I’m curious – does Frankie eat fish? Yes, she says, but only if it’s responsibly and sustainably caught.

My visit coincided with feeding time for the conger eels. I learned that the eels at the zoo are in various stages of their life cycle, and older ones are released to live out their days in the sea. The zoo received a Blue Peter badge for this work, and once released an eel live on The One Show – it was ‘very wriggly,’ Frankie says.

A fascinating creature – and one with an important role to play in commercial fish farms – is the lump sucker. Frankie tells me that as these fish attract many parasites, they’re being used instead of pesticides in commercial fish farms. The parasites are attracted to the lump suckers and leave the other fish alone, so farmed fish can now avoid being treated for parasites chemically.

As I walk around the exhibits I’m absolutely overwhelmed by what I see – my jaw literally drops more times than I can count. I see rays, cuttlefish, seahorses, lesser spotted catsharks, longspine snipefish, pipefish, and even a maternity ward for lobsters (the breeding programme is a very important part of the conservation work taking place here).

Seahorse conservation is a big thing here too. Both species of British seahorse, the short snouted and spiny seahorse, have almost completely disappeared from Britain. There isn’t enough information to properly classify them, but they are both definitely highly endangered. Anglesey Sea Zoo breeds them but it’s very challenging – keeping the fry alive is one of the biggest difficulties.

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The conservation message is strong and consistent throughout the attraction. There are many information points and displays, and there are loads of fun educational activities for children to help press the message home. I learned a huge amount during my two and a half hours at the zoo, and I will definitely visit again. To an old hippy like me who loves anything to do with nature and the environment, it was the perfect place to visit.

Frankie told me as we walked around that the aim is to make people look at British beaches with new eyes. Mission accomplished, in my case!

Find out more about Anglesey Sea Zoo’s conservation work here.

Anglesey Sea Zoo has a new, very rare guest – find out more here.

Find out more about using your Snowdonia Pass at Anglesey Sea Zoo here.

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