New undersea world opens at Antwerp Zoo


Antwerp Zoo has finished refurbishing its aquarium, which features thousands of fish from around the world in painstakingly recreated environments

Attention to the unknown

After two years of hard work, Antwerp Zoo has finished refurbishing its aquarium, with the new addition of one of the largest reef aquariums in Europe.

As you enter the building there are octopuses and newly bred seahorses at the entrance, eight freshwater tanks to the right, and eight saltwater tanks to the left containing a huge diversity of fish. The tanks replicate environments from all around the world, to keep the fish healthy and correctly separated. They lead your eye to the back wall, which is an observation window into the colourful reef environment.

The reef tank contains roughly 4,000 vibrant tropical fish, including the clownfish made famous by Finding Nemo. The backdrop is formed of 20 tonnes of Indonesian and Turkish moonstone, with a shipwreck theme, on which the corals grow. The corals were all sourced from other aquariums, and Antwerp Zoo hopes to use this as a seed with which to grow and research its own corals.

Spokesperson Ilse Segers says: “It’s important to give attention to the unknown. People are familiar with elephants and sharks, but this is a very interesting story to tell.” Without proper exposure to the public, ecological issues often get swept under the carpet.

Surrounded by the reef

The design of the aquarium gives visitors an experience that comes as close to coral diving as possible without getting wet. The tank’s observation window – 8 metres wide, 4m tall and 13cm thick – was imported from Houston harbour in the US. 

People are familiar with elephants and sharks, but this is a very interesting story to tell

- Ilse Segers

“We had to make a hole in the wall to get it in,” says Segers. It’s made of an acrylic glass that’s just as clear but more flexible than standard glass. This means they were able to have a curved wall, allowing visitors to feel completely surrounded by the reef environment when they get close enough.

The floor-to-ceiling interior decoration combines modern lighting and technology with the original classical elements of the building, which dates back to 1911. “Since this is one of the oldest zoos in Europe, we wanted to work with new techniques, but with respect for the past,” says Segers. It makes being in the aquarium feel like walking down a corridor in mythical Atlantis; this effect is made stronger by the fact that all the tanks are set into the walls underneath rows of arches, making them very window-like. It’s even possible to book a corporate dinner in the aquarium.

But it’s not just the face of the aquarium that looks good. All the seahorses and freshwater fish that are visible were bred at the aquarium, and the parent fish are protected and nurtured behind the scenes. The Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp has a number of projects in the field around the world that are aimed at helping animals and humans to co-exist in better harmony.

Photo © Zoo Antwerpen/Jonas Verhulst

Antwerp Zoo

Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest and best-conserved zoos in the world. The zoo buildings and gardens are registered as protected Flemish heritage.
Kai-Mook - In 2009, Kai-Mook, the first baby elephant born on Belgian soil, dominated national and international headlines for weeks.
Founding - The Zoo was established by former Antwerp mayor Jans Frans Loos. After visiting Amsterdam’s zoo, he decided it was time for Antwerp to get its own.
Short - In colloquial Flemish speech, Antwerp Zoo has long gone by the simple name “De Zoo”.
1 843

Zoo opens


surface area in hectares

5 000