The voyage begins with a gentle slope like a slow immersion beneath the waves to meet the species that inhabit the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. That means the Pacific sea nettle, eagle rays, groupers, moray eels, sharks, bioluminescent fish and shoals of sardines. As you progress, the light level falls gradually and disappears completely once you reach 100 metres depth. It's totally convincing!
Having completed their descent, visitors arrive at the highlight of this spectacular experience: the brand-new aquarium that is the largest in Europe and equivalent in size to 4 Olympic swimming pools. No fewer than 20,000 fish live here, including the star couple of manta rays from Florida, and 10 young hammerhead sharks born off the coast of Australia. We view them from a 7.5-metre high fault in the rock, an incredible curving tunnel 18 metres long and an amphitheatre overlooking an enormous glass viewing wall 20 metres long and 5 metres high. Fascinating.
The Nausicaà mission goes beyond the creation of what is an enthralling dream, to the important task of raising visitor - and especially young visitor - awareness of the need to protect our oceans. “Events are scheduled every day, and include the feeding of the manta rays and hammerhead sharks, as well as dives by our care team, who visitors can view as they go about their work and ask them questions directly using special equipment", explains Aquarium Service Manager Stéphane Hénard. These carers are passionate about the work they do in facilitating interaction between visitors and sea creatures. It’s fun, it’s scientific and it’s educational.
It now takes 5 hours (compared with the previous 2½ hours) to explore the National Sea Centre if you include the Oceans & Climate exhibition and the Mankind & Shores experience devoted to the management of our coastlines. All of these spaces have retained their flagship attractions, including the great coral reef, the shark tank, the rock-hopping African penguins, the caiman aquarium, the Californian sea lion training sessions and the touch tank. It’s an experience that deserves an entire smartphone-free day.
Nausicaà now has plans for a final extension project to address the issues of the north and south poles, ice melt and global warming. With a projected opening date of 2021, this new wing will finally give the National Sea Centre the shape of a manta ray, creating a new icon when seen from the heights of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Until then, it’s already an exceptional building on an exceptional scale, and a major architectural, aquarium engineering and technical challenge. But why wait until 2021 to come back?