On November 6, 2016, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Acquario di Genova (Genoa Aquarium) in Italy and to ask some questions Giuseppe Costa, President and CEO of Costa Edutainment, managing society of the aquarium, and Claudia Gili Scientific Director of the aquarium.
Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, the exhibition gallery consists of over 70 exhibits and about 12,000 specimen of 600 species, from all the seas of the world. From the rarest species such as manatees – marine mammals that may be at the origin of the legend of mermaids – to the most famous ones such as dolphins, penguins and sharks – the great predators of the sea; but also jellyfish, seals and multi-colored tropical fish species. We asked him about his thoughts on the state of the oceans and how aquarium can get involved in conserving oceans.
The mission of the Acquario di Genova – to inform and to raise awareness among the public towards the preservation, management and sustainable use of the aquatic environments, in order to promote positive behaviours – has always driven the actions and the commitment of the whole structure.
Since its opening, numerous efforts to get involved not only the visitors of the Acquario, but also schools, observers and ordinary citizens have been made; every initiative is always aimed at building up a more responsible relationship with the environment and to stimulate activities, particularly to safeguard the aquatic fauna.
The visit: the main spreading tool
The main tool of this mission is the visit to the exhibition path, which through the emotional involvement of the public means to communicate important messages for the environment tutelage and enhancement.
The rigorous representation of the environments and the careful choice of the scientific information to be passed on to the public are the basis on which the activity of the Acquario di Genova is based on since its opening.
On the visit path, the Acquario di Genova has run campaigns to collect funds and signatures for specific themes, on which to raise the general public awareness and also aimed at supporting preservation projects with an international involvement. Among the main campaigns there are the ones promoted by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), of which the Acquario is a member, on amphibians, Madagascar, turtles and tortoises and the international petition for the corals’ safeguard.
Nico de Corato: Oceans face a host of serious pressures and conservation challenges today. What most worries you today? Are you optimistic about the long-term health of ocean environments?
Claudia Gili: I share your feelings about the human pressure and the serious conservation challenges faced by the oceans and the earth, in general. We are all part of the same planet and all our daily activities affect with direct consequences our lives, but many people do not know nor realizes it. Moreover, the current contingent human problems and survival perspectives often guide the governments into different urgent emergencies, leaving the environmental needs behind.
In order to maintain optimism and address this in a proactive and sustainable way, we need to understand the origin and the mechanisms of the different problems (such as, for example, pollution and fishing pressure) and support constant specific research and evaluations of the consequencies, to suggest and follow the actions to be taken.
The role of aquaria is therefore to show habitats and species, that most people would not be able to reach, and engage every citizen, by increasing their emotions and understanding of the environment. In this sense all aquaria of the world work in a strong network. Our pathway throughout the exhibits is an educational opportunity that allows us to share our knowledge with the general public and to involve the scientific and cultural institutions, together with governing authorities, to change their lifestyles with sustainable daily actions that will help preserve threatened species and habitats, “unreplaceable jewels that belong to our future generations”.
NdC: Could you tell us the story of the Acquario di Genova?
Giuseppe Costa: The Acquario di Genova was built on the occasion of the Expo ’92, a celebration of the fifth centenary of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, with the intention of restructuring and enhancing an area full of history and traditions, located in the heart of Genoa’s historic centre: the Porto Antico (the old port). The project for the area and the Acquario is by the Genoese architect Renzo Piano, whereas the interior design is by the American architect Peter Chermayeff.
It is one of the main Italian cultural attractions; it boasts over one million visitors per year and over 27 millions since its opening. It is managed by Costa Edutainment S.p.A., leader in Italy of the management of great structures; it develops educational, recreational, cultural, study and scientific research activities.
Since 1992, the facility has grown and is now the largest aquarium in Europe. In spring 2016, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, Acquario di Genova has undergone a massive renovation to assert its leadership as the largest and most amazing aquarium in Italy and in Europe, with its capability of arousing surprise and excitement thanks to new visit experiences.
Since the 23rd March 2016, Acquario di Genova presents a brand new exhibition gallery thanks to cutting-edge exhibit designs, digital installations and an extensively renovated light and sound design.
The passengers of this ideal voyage are real key players, involved in the heart of the aquarium’s life by the crew. A tight daily schedule of speeches – 48 weekly presentations – allows the visitors to interact with the animal care staff in 6 different animal areas, in order to learn and uncover secrets and curiosities of their biology and habitats, understanding the beauty of a life that blooms over and over again.
NdC: What is the relationship between the Aquarium and people from Genova? How local people live the Aquarium.
GC: Acquario di Genova is a facility which has a central role for the city and the scientific world, offering extraordinary opportunities and services including leasure and fun. Since the aquarium opening, several tourist and cultural offers have been put together expanding the concept of the visit to the aquarium to true and fascinating experiences, linking together the whole cultural exhibit world managed by Costa Edutainment in Genoa.
The so called “AcquarioVillage” world is in fact a new proposal of enthralling, high added value experiences, which unite Acquario di Genova, Galata Museo del Mare with the submarine Nazario Sauro, the Biosfera and the Bigo panoramic lift.
Also through the tour operator we own since 2000 – C-Way -, we try to accomplish the mission of tourist development of the city and of the region.
Genoa used to be an industrial city. Since 1992 it began to change towards a touristic town. This is a long process that is still ongoing and needs a team work among all the public and private facilities and stakeholders of the city. Most of the citizens living in Genoa appreciate the aquarium even if they are only 10% of our visitors. We are working hard to have them become best promoters not only of the aquarium but of all the city cultural heritage.
Since 2004, Costa Edutainment is a member of the “Associazione Festival della Scienza” (Science Festival association), which takes care of the organization of the scientific exhibition which takes place every year in Genoa.
In 2008 Costa Edutainment S.p.A. has also become part of “Genova Palazzo Ducale Fondazione per la Cultura” (Genoa Palazzo Ducale Culture Foundation) as a share holding partner, with the objective of actively contributing to the heritage enhancement and promotion of the initiatives and cultural networks of the Genoese territory, within a perspective of cooperation between public and private sectors.
NdC: Getting in touch with animals and wildlife can be important to educate people about the risk of extinction?
CG: The mission of the Acquario di Genova – to inform and to raise awareness among the public towards the preservation, management and sustainable use of the aquatic environments, in order to promote positive behaviours – has always driven the actions and the commitment of our institution.
Since its opening, numerous efforts to involve, not only the visitors of the Acquario, but also schools, observers and ordinary citizens have been made; each initiative is always aimed at building up a more responsible human relationship with the environment and to stimulate activities, particularly to preserve the aquatic fauna.
The main tool of this mission is the visit to the exhibition path, which through the emotional involvement of the public aims to communicate important messages for the environment conservation.
Since its opening, Acquario di Genova maintained a rigorous representation of the habitats and the careful choice of the scientific information to be transferred to the public. In order to support this effort, several activities have been devised and developed according to the edutainment style, which combine information focused on the aquatic ecosystems with entertainment and emotional fun. Arousing visitors’ curiosity and interest expands their knowledge and stimulates the public towards the preservation of the environment,.
This model of activity is based on the concept of a unique and distinctive experience, focused on the thrill of learning while having fun.
NdC: What do you feel is the role of aquarium in the conservation of oceans?
CG: Acquario di Genova has a central role in the conservation of Oceans. First of all, thanks to its dissemination effort, it is able to reach more than 1 million of people each year and more, counting on website, social profiles and other communication tools. We are also engaged in european and international specific dissemination projects on several items such as responsible fishing, protection of Cetaceans in the Pelagos Sanctuary and active conservation efforts on local fauna.
A very important aspect is also in fact the direct engagement in research and conservation projects, for example: the Emys project for the preservation of a local subspecies of the European pond turtle of the Piana di Albenga, the project “Delfini Metropolitani” (metropolitan dolphins), that studies the presence and habits of the coastal dolphins and their relationship with Human activities, the cooperation with the “Servizio Cites” of the State Forestry Corps for the fostering of endangered protected species.
NdC: Which is the most critical part in managing an Aquarium?
GC: Aquaria are very complex facilities with various needs. We need to care about animal welfare, considering that each one has different and specific needs; we need to care about our clients giving them all the services they require and need; we have to accomplish our dissemination mission trying to be always updated in terms of technological devices and high quality standards; we need and want to be responsible towards environment and also towards society. The most critical part is to match all these goals.
NdC: How do you see the future of the Aquario di Genova?
GC: In 2016 we launched a 2-year renovation project to reassert the “Aquarium leadership” in Italy and Europe together with new partners. In the last months the number of our visitors have raised, together with the overall satisfaction about the visit. Thanks to this, also our dissemination engagament has increased. The future of Acquario di Genova seems to be positive!
NdC: Have you ever been in Dubai? Did you ever visit aquariums over there?
GC: I was in Dubai not long time ago and visited both the Aquariums there. I found them very interesting. They are amazing and big facilities.
CG: I have not been in Dubai nor visited the aquaria, but have heard from colleagues who work there and are enthusiastic about the management and the possible further developments of these facilities. We know that the so called “aquarium world” share the same goals and we therefore count on these aquaria to act as example for environmental preservation and to expand our unite mission to all their visitors as well.
We do thank you again Acquario di Genova and Costa Edutainment for the warm welcome.