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Research at the National Marine Aquarium

The National Marine Aquarium has a team of scientists dedicated to carrying out research activity that supports our mission to Drive Marine Conservation through Engagement. We have hosted over 70 research projects for students from the University of Plymouth and other institutions, ranging from enrichment studies with our Giant Pacific Octopus to understanding the economic and environmental impact of an artificial reef.

A full listing of projects is available here

Our research activity falls under three main headings:


Animal welfare and husbandry

As a means of Driving Conservation through Engagement, the Aquarium relies upon our animals to inspire and provide a basis for our learning activity.

We strive to operate a model of best practice in animal husbandry and our biologists at the National Marine Aquarium have years of experience, not only in keeping animals in display tanks but also in researching techniques for breeding, feeding and observing the behaviour of animals under our care. This knowledge is shared with aquariums throughout the world to promote welfare for marine animals in captivity.

Linking learning to conservation

TLinking Learning to Conservation

Ultimately, we operate the Aquarium to promote a sympathetic understanding of the sea. We dedicate a lot of research effort to understanding how our visitors learn from the Aquarium experience and, more widely, how conservation attitudes and behaviours can be encouraged.

A major current project, Blue Space, is investigating the important effects that contact with nature - whether real or "virtual" - has on human health and wellbeing and, in turn, how this links to conservation attitudes and behaviour. Until now studies have concentrated on different "green" environments, ranging from gardens and city parks to excursions into the wilderness.

Whilst, intuitively, many people find spending time by the sea relaxing, it appears that few scientific studies have concentrated on the mental health benefits of aquatic environments.

The National Marine Aquarium is currently working with psychologists from the University of Plymouth on a research programme investigating the restorative potential of real and "virtual" marine environments. Initial work carried out in 2009 found that, when asked to rate a series of photographs of different built and natural environments against a range of psychological measures, images containing water were consistently preferred to those without "blue space". Further studies planned over the next three years will explore further how spending time in, on or around the sea can improve our wellbeing and physical health as well as improving our awareness of the oceans and its creatures.

Environmental research and citizen science

The Scylla Reef Project

Making links between the Aquarium and our seas is vital to the success of the Aquarium in achieving Conservation through Engagement. Our scientists have been involved in a number of projects that seek to address some of the key issues in marine conservation. Wherever possible, we support projects that provide opportunities for scientists and non-scientists to work together to collect data and make observations about the changing marine ecosystem

The Scylla Reef Project, coordinated by the National Marine Aquarium, was aimed at supporting local biodiversity by providing a new and diverse habitat whilst also providing a new site for recreational diving and research.

On 27th March 2004, the former naval frigate HMS Scylla was scuttled and placed on the seabed in Whitsand Bay, south-east Cornwall. The sinking of Scylla marked the end of years of planning and preparation by the National Marine Aquarium and partners yet the beginning of the life of a new artificial reef.

The reef was created primarily as a unique dive destination. Scylla presents a challenging but rewarding experience which has been enjoyed by many thousands of divers. For information on diving Scylla click here

As well as offering divers a new dive site, the reef presents scientists with an opportunity to study the colonisation of an underwater structure from the very beginning. As the development of more and more offshore structures takes place - from wind turbines to moorings, oil platforms to wave power devices - there is a need to understand the processes that dictate what will fill the space created by the new structure and how this can affect the survival of local marine life and the structures themselves.

Scientific programmes studying the colonisation of the reef and the impact upon the surrounding seabed have been carried out by partners within the Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership and the results coordinated by Aquarium scientists. A large number of observations were also made by volunteer divers under the Seasearch programme - A PowerPoint presentation of the marine life on Scylla can be viewed at

With the reef now established as a "climax" community, the Aquarium is putting together a research programme with local scientists to establish the responses of a variety of species to environmental changes.


Citizen science

Researcher wins best poster in Symposium

‘Citizen Science’ reduces the burden on individual researchers by asking many members of the public to each contribute a small amount of data to a larger data pool. To our knowledge, this concept has not yet been used in the field of animal behaviour so University of Plymouth Researcher Jo Bishop investigated here at the National Marine Aquarium.

Jo’s research, using a touch screen in front of the Aquarium’s Ocean Tank, has provided some positive data. Furthermore, Jo’s poster went on to win the Best Poster prize at last week’s BIAZA (British, Irish Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums) Research Symposium.

Download the Poster Here.


Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership

The Aquarium is a founder member of the internationally renowned Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership - a group of respected and influential organisations carrying out a wide range of research into the understanding of marine systems.

An important element of the partnership's mission is the understanding and management of human impact on the environment.

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About Us

A selection of juveniles reared at the aquarium by one of our biologists, Chris Challen.

From left to right: Shanny (Lipophrys pholis), scorpion fish (Taurulus bubalis), cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), big bellied seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis), mysid shrimp (Neomysis integer) and tompot blenny (Parablennius attorugine),

Dive HMS Scylla

If you'd like to dive Scylla or to view the history and find out more about the science of the reef please visit

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