Predominantly establishments that display live aquatic animals and plants for public exhibition, aquaria are becoming increasingly popular as advanced technology allows the aquaria to keep larger and a more diverse number of species.
Massive tanks containing thousands of gallons of water, complex filtration and heating systems, touch pools and observation tunnels provide the public with the opportunity to encounter the aquatic world. However, while these state of the art facilities may provide entertainment to the visiting public, for the animals displayed, the environment they offer is restrictive and unnatural.
The tanks are designed with the public in mind and the animals contained are often confronted by the same issues as animals in a zoo: limited space, overcrowding, susceptibility to developing abnormal behaviour, prone to becoming infected by disease and vulnerable to any changes in its controlled environment. Mortalities in aquaria are believed to be high with huge numbers of fish and aquatic invertebrates known to be imported to sustain the commercial aquaria industry, many of which are wild-caught.
In the UK, there over 50 aquaria (2006) equivalent to 10% of all the zoological collections established in England, Scotland and Wales. Covered by the same legislation as terrestrial zoos, aquaria are licensed under the UK Zoo Licensing Act (1981), and the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice (2004), and are subject to meeting similar requirements in public education, conservation and animal welfare.