Behind closed doors: Nausicaa

NAUSICAA, the French National Sea Life Centre located in Boulogne-sur-Mer (France), is much more than just an aquarium.
It is a unique centre for discovery of the marine environment, in a fun, educational and scientific way, largely focusing on the relationship between mankind and the ocean, whilst raising public awareness of the resources at stake and the challenges ahead.

After a major extension in May 2018 and another one planned, Nausicaá is the largest aquarium in Europe and home to more than 58,000 animals (1,600 species).

Since its opening to the public in 1991, Nausicaá has welcomed over 17 million visitors from all around the world. Today, with the global spread of a coronavirus pandemic, the centre had to follow the French government’s guidelines and, like most touristic sites in France and across the world, had to close its doors to the public until further notice.

However, behind closed doors, life continues at Nausicaá in the most exceptional and endearing way.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Dominique Mallevoy, Aquariologist at Nausicaá, in charge of keeping everything running smoothly for the animals, until the official reopening.

A chat with…

Dominique Mallevoy, Aquariologist at Nausicaá Sea Life Centre

What is your role at Nausicaá?

Well, I am lucky enough to have a very versatile and hands-on role at Nausicaá.
My daily missions include:

  • Managing the daily life of the Aquariology department
  • Making sure everything related to the animals in the centre, runs smoothly
  • Managing a team of 35 people, caretakers, trainers, etc.
  • Overseeing the feeding, breeding and training of the animals
  • Overseeing pedagogical and technical schedules
  • And many more exciting ‘tasks’ on my to-do list.

When did Nausicaá close due to Covid-19?

The government officially announced the national lockdown on March 17. However, for safety reasons, the Nausicaá management team decided to close to the public, the weekend before, on Saturday 14 March.

With the Covid-19 crisis spreading and the government restrictions being announced, how did your team adapt to the situation?

Before the lockdown was officially announced, we drastically limited the number of visitors per day, for safety reasons. We created a crisis task force group, to anticipate all possible scenarios and get everything prepared for the worst. We put in place a rotating schedule for the staff, actively worked on informing the general public on the situation here at the centre and assessed all the logistical/technical aspects. We were ready to close our doors just a couple of days before the general confinement was announced. Throughout this whole process, our main objective was the safety of the general public, our employees and of course, the animals’ living in Nausicaá. It was absolutely key to ensure the lives and daily routines of the inhabitants of Nausicaá remained undisrupted. It is a 24/7 mission – and passion.

Your favourite task on your to-do list?

Diving in the big tank, surrounded by sharks, hundreds of fish and the large manta ray. It’s magical, a real pleasure every time I have the chance to do so.

Your best memory of Nausicaá behind closed doors?

My best memory so far is definitely following two of our penguins, who were taken for a free walk around Nausicaá (of course, under tight security). It was really fun! While it has led to some of the strangest encounters of animals, it was also essential for them, being used to visitors, to maintain social interactions during the lockdown.

Can the general public follow what is happening behind closed doors at Nausicaá?

OF COURSE!!
Well… (laughs), the lockdown is a very powerful creativity stimulator, allowing us to think outside the box while working closely with the animals. The situation being so unique and us having a bit more time on our hands, as we have no visitors to welcome, we decided to capture all the best moments of Nausicaá behind closed doors during this lockdown. Photos, videos, live streams etc, are now all being shared with the general public and would-be visitors to the aquarium on our Facebook page (External link) , for them to follow the life at Nausicaá from the comfort of their sofa and even raise a few smiles.

Any ‘behind the scenes’ secrets you could share with us?

Two new baby penguins were born last week in Nausicaá!
A very special moment.
Some pictures and footage have been shared on our Facebook page (External link) .

On a positive note

While people across the globe are being asked to stay home for health and safety reasons, an important pollution drop has been identified in the last few weeks and nature is taking back its territory a little. Via television, online, or even with our own eyes, some of the most beautiful wonders of nature can now be witnessed. A whale in Marseille’s harbour, a basking shark in the Rade de Brest in Brittany and even dolphins appearing in Venice canals… it’s beautiful!

How are you planning the reopening of Nausicaá?

It is of course too soon to say how things will be when we reopen, mostly for two reasons. First of all, the ‘When’ would need to be determined and officially announced by the French Government. No date has been given yet, as some challenges of the current health crisis still need to be addressed.

As for the ‘How’, we are of course expecting new health and safety regulations from the government and are currently working in this direction. How many visitors will be allowed in the centre per day? New health and safety practices? Wearing masks? Will the restaurant be open? These are only SOME of the questions we are asking ourselves. The team at Nausicaá, both operational and management, are working on these question marks, to make sure we anticipate all scenarios possible and are prepared and ready to safely welcome visitors again when the time comes.

When the travel ban is lifted, why do you think Nausicaá should be on every British traveller’ holiday itinerary?

We are literally next door!
(laughs)

Located in Boulogne sur Mer, less than 30 minutes from Calais, we are just a hop across the channel and therefore a very ‘reassuring’ destination for families and holidaymakers, who are looking for their first post-confinement sweet escape. By car, ferry or train – when transport companies start running again, we are the ideal first pitstop when setting foot in France. Boulogne-sur-Mer is a super family-friendly destination by the sea, with many outdoor activities to choose from, great food, delicious local beer, and you could even make it a day trip if you are an early starter!

As for Nausicaá itself, as mentioned earlier, it is not just an aquarium – it is a window to the ocean.

In a fun, educational and often awe-inspiring way, Nausicaá is here to share a message on behalf of the ocean and participate in the global mission to protect marine biodiversity and the beauty of preserved nature. It strives to educate visitors on the environment and its importance to our future.

With no visitors here to share the story of the ocean with, our core mission is on pause.
We live and thrive thanks to our visitors and look forward to welcoming them back again soon!