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Africa's first filming aquarium
Monday, April 28, 2003

Africa's First Filming Aquarium

New Vision (Kampala)

April 28, 2003

Posted to the web April 28, 2003

Charles Musisi


People will now be able to view how aquatic animals behave in their natural habitant

A swamp, that is what you might call it. Water, papyrus and other marsh plants. But a swamp is not fenced with a plastic coated chain link covered with wire mesh and it has no water pump.

This unique facility, adjacent to the shores of Lake Victoria, at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, is the first filming aquarium in Africa.

Next to it, a series of steps leads to a 5 by 3 metres underground viewing room. The walls are made of link blocks reinforced with metal bars. On one side, is a glass panel. The thick transparent glass enables one to view animals under water. The aquarium has a concrete floor. Two otters swirl gracefully in the water.

The aquarium is the brainchild of Pip Lawson, who works for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Natural Science Unit and her colleague Edward Kirby, the cameraman. BBC commissioned the journalists to undertake the project.

"It was our idea. We conceived the notion of recreating a swamp last year so as to film aquatic animals. We sold the idea to BBC," says the tall, strongly built Lawson. "BBC produces wildlife films and documentaries for its world-wide audience. The films and documentaries are telecast on BBC Television and also sold."

The journalists' film project is part of the 'Nile Series', a project initiated by the BBC. The series involves shooting aquatic life.

"We chose Uganda because it is a good base," says Lawson.

In November last year, they contacted Betty Kamya, the executive director of UWEC. She approved the project. Thereafter, they enlisted William Muller to help construct the aquarium.

"Muller made everything happen," says Lawson.

Muller was the first executive director of UWEC. He retired three years ago and now lives in Germany.

"It is a fantastic idea. This facility is unique," observes Muller with obvious interest. "It is a great attraction and an important educational facility. You can watch animals under water behaving naturally."

Construction of the aquarium began two months ago. Lawson is very cagey about the cost. However she admits that it is not cheap. The aquarium was completed this month.

"We used concrete and float glass. The glass is thick, about 19 millimetres," explains Lawson. "Float glass can withstand water pressure so it keeps the facility safe."

A solar water pump near the aquarium supplies it with water. The aquarium has a capacity of 50,000cubic centimetres of water. Its deepest point is 1.8 metres.

"The water goes through a complex filtration system, making it healthy for animals," says Lawson. "It keeps the water clean and ensures that there is enough oxygen. This water is reused."

Thirty-year-old Sam Waigo, the site supervisor explains, "Water goes through three stages: The coarse filter, micro filter, and the ultra violet filter. The last filter kills all the bacteria. If all the filters are used at the same time, cleaning water takes only one hour."

According to Lawson, the filming aquarium is the first of its kind in Africa. A similar one is found in Manas, Brazil.

"This is a great new facility. For the first time, visitors to the centre will be able to see how aquatic animals behave in their natural habitat," says Lawson. If you dive with the camera in a lake or sea, you cannott see the animals because of the mud. Now I can film the animals easily."

Lawson says they will film animals such as the Nile crocodiles and otters. The animals are unique to Africa. Otters were the first animals to be filmed in April.

Animals will be transferred from their artificial habitat at UWEC to the aquarium for filming.

"The aquarium is like a natural habitat to which the aquatic animals are adopted. They feel comfortable," observes Lawson. "I think they will enjoy to run about in it."

The journalists officially handed over the aquarium to UWEC on April 22.

"We are proud of it," says Janat Ssenyonga, the Public Relations Officer UWEC. "It is a great asset to the centre".

Copyright 2003 New Vision. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). Click here to contact the copyright holder directly for corrections -- or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material.


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