Detroit Redesigns Belle Isle Aquarium With Hand Me Downs from Closed National Aquarium in DC

Posted by Rachel S on Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Belle Isle Aquarium reopened in 2012

The Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit was the oldest operating aquarium in the US from when it opened in 1904 until it closed in 2005. But after seven years out of commission, Belle Isle was able to reopen and now operates solely under volunteer power, but funding is an on-going issue so revamping the aquarium and redesigning exhibits is not in the budget. But the recent closure of the National Aquarium in Washington, DC is proving a boon to Belle Isle.

When the National Aquarium closed at the end of September, the fish and other marine animals were farmed out to other aquariums, but the accouterments that adorned the tanks and facility were left behind. The volunteers of the Belle Isle Conservancy decided to take advantage of the closure to scoop up materials to redo their modest facility. The group scored a donated Penske truck and drove to DC to collect filters, tanks, coral reefs and other decorative items.

Tankscaping materials salvaged by Belle Isle volunteers

One of Belle Isle’s volunteers Jennifer Boardman complained to the Detroit Free Press that the plain tanks now in the aquarium “looks boring – it’s like going to a pet store.” She hopes with the supplies from the National Aquarium they can “create really beautiful tanks” adding, “this is really expensive stuff, so it’s a very lucky find for us.”

Some of the items Belle Isle will be scooping up to redesign the aquatic digs for their swimmers include handcrafted artificial rocks, simulated sunken ships and a faux sunken airplane all created by National Aquarium’s tank artists. With these items in hand, aquarium volunteers hope to greatly enhance the tankscaping at Belle Isle on a dime.

National Aquarium decor brought to Belle Isle Aquarium

Belle Isle Conservancy director Vance Patrick says, “We deeply regret its closing, but it’s wonderful that they are willing to consider the Belle Isle Aquarium for reuse and recycling some of their equipment—which we sorely need. Opportunities like this do not come along often, we could not pass it up. This sort of recycling of equipment is in keeping with the natural spirit of Belle Isle Park, and reuse is vital to our frugal set up.”

The Belle Isle Conservancy oversees not just the aquarium but other facilities on the island in the Detroit River as well. In addition to the no-fee admittance aquarium, there’s a conservatory with extensive botanical displays, greenhouses, Civil War cannons, a driving range, nature zoo, yacht club, children’s playground, jogging trails, beach, water slide and boreal wetlands forest.

Belle Isle Aquarium run by volunteers and open on Saturday

If you want to check out the new and improved tanks at Belle Isle, give the volunteers a few months to get everything arranged and then visit any Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm. The first Saturday of each month is designated Science Saturday and features a special program with a prominent guest speaker on wide ranging, water-related topics. Both admission and parking are always free.

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