An underwater adventure… well almost.
Manila Ocean Park, Manila, Philippines
27 February 2011
It was a gloomy Sunday morning, standing amidst the grayish water of Manila Bay and heavy dark sky is a building clad in the same color. As if completely hidden from the public, you wouldn’t notice or even know that a building which contains hundreds of colorful underwater creatures would be located.
Welcome to Manila Ocean Park the first of its kind in the Philippines. From the Roxas Boulevard, you wouldn’t know that the building exists, it was entirely covered by the Quirino Grandstand. The building is on piles – floating above the Manila Bay Area with2 extensive wings and joined by a central structure. I can say that the structure is not that architecturally profound in terms of its exterior design – nothing grand whatsoever.
“Manila’s Ocean Park”
Upon entering the building per se, is the middle conglomeration area, with its high ceiling atrium where you would be greeted by the different food and refreshment establishments. On the right-wing is where the lounge area for the Hotel H2o is located, and to the far left is the entrance to the Oceanarium. On to the Oceanarium the passage starts with “Agos”- a rainforest themed area filled with freshwater fishes in tanks, and even crocodiles just below the 2 storey waterfalls. The area is beneath the vertical lines of Millionaire’s Vine or what they call Bali Curtain, and upon the walls and the whole area are the different forest plants and shrubs.
Bahura (The Reef)
Next in line is a dim area, where the only lights are coming out of the 48 tanks of the various artificial Reefs. Well, yes you read it right-ARTIFICIAL REEFS, but with real fishes and other underwater creatures. Perhaps the use of such is promoting marine life in the tanks, provide interesting feature, and for the basic reason that they wouldn’t want to disturb the fishes’ natural habitat, by getting their houses. Fishes that were featured are: the famous Clownfishes ( thanks to Nemo!), Wrasse, Sea Forse, Garden Eels, and other small and cute , and even ugly underwater creatures.
Laot (Fishing Ground)
After the 2 metered aisles of the Bahura, next is the huge open space of about 100 sqm., where the sides are filled with huge and long tanks of bigger fishes and the nose-y Eagle Ray.
“Party of Fish”
Buhay na Karagatan (Living Ocean)
This is the main attraction of the Oceanarium, and so far the most interesting and quite breathtaking for me. It’s a tunnel of about 20-25 meters long, encased in perhaps very thick acrylic wall, where you can see all deep ocean creatures, in this enormous 220 degrees space. The experience is added by the wind blown by the huge fan on the other end of the tunnel. The only thing I don’t like upon entering this area is that there is no surprise factor. This is just ahead the “Laot” segment, and you can see it just after leaving the “Bahura” area. People can get excited and the possibility of skipping the “Laot” area can happen, and just going directly to the Tunnel of ocean due to anticipation factor. But despite the lack of “boom” factor, I was enthusiastically thrilled to be surrounded by the different ocean creatures: on your left, right side, and above. My favorite of all are the different sizes of the eagle and blue rays! They have this grace, elegance, lightness, and airiness, such a lovely creature! I find it funny for the shark that it is just sleeping above the acrylic panel- he seems to be so lazy and such a bum, as he sleeps in the aquarium. Good thing he moved and I saw that despite his size, he seems to be lighter.
Kalaliman ( The Deep )
Just few walks after the “Buhay ng Karagatan” is the “Kalaliman” (The Deep ), “Pating” (Shark), and “Pagi” (Sting Ray). I myself called it the Black district, its like the hood part of the city, since it is where the carnivores such as sharks are located, and other deep ocean creature. They are bundled in one corner of the aquarium, not moving at all, and it seems like their planning their next attack. But other than those massive, blood-thirsty creatures, are those humble ones, such as planktons, and even a big creature, similar to the “Dugongs” where they only gobble planktons, and even seaweeds. Meanwhile the Sting Rays can be located above this high ceiling space where similar to the Buhay na Karagatan (Living Ocean) area, is encased in this acrylic floor slab. You can witness them below this structure, and when you go up, their encasement is not that pretty, and it’s like those tanks that can be found in the supermarket, it is shallow, and as if those Sting Rays are for sale. In this area , you can also witness the sharks, as you perceive down below their aquarium, swimming back and forth, as if boredom encased them.
Next stop after the Oceanarium, is the Jellies: Dancing Sea Ferries, it can be reached after various commercial establishments, up and down the building. The planning of the area, or as I may say the whole rooms of the building is quite gusty. Nonetheless, as we reached the Jellies Section, the area is dimly lit by the neon colored lights inside the aquariums. These jelly fishes transform into different colors, as they react to the lights of the tank: from the strike of yellow, red, green, blue, orange, red, and purple. These semi-translucent creatures, despite their notoriety of providing discomfort and pain to anyone after a close physical contact, can be so graceful, and as their tag line says they are indeed fairies of the ocean. They look so beautiful, and even cuddly, due to their semi-circular shape in their head. The experience is even added by the coldness of the space (which is by the way converted into a bar during the nights), plus the background music. Not to mention the unsightly curtains that doesn’t cover up the light from the glass window on the sides of the area, plus the quietly scattered furniture of the bar. After the bar area, is a deceiving area, at first it was impossible not to be awed. The place has these cylindrical column aquariums, where jellies are encased. At a glance you might as well think that the area is a hall, due to its vastness, but it is a trick! The area is only small, but the illusion that the space is huge is created due to the mirrors on all the sides of the walls and if you’re not careful enough, and may be so awestruck by the experience, you might be bumping into these full height mirrors. The experience is quite peaceful and sober, as if you’re in another dimension and on the twilight zone.
“Spot the Red”
After of about 2 hours of walk, I found myself starving for food, and a break for my weary feet. But the adventure doesn’t end there; on our last stop is the Sea Lion Show. We finished the Jellies, 30 minutes before the Sea Lion Show starts, so it was quite nice to have a break in the watching area, before the show starts. As we wait for the show, I happened to notice that the Hotel H2o rooms are just in front of the area where the show is to be performed. Not quite nice view I might say, no privacy for those guest, as the show is held morning, afternoon, and even during the nights.
As the show starts, I was also wondering where the Sea Lion would be coming out. They arrived from the right area of the stage, still wondering how their house of the compound looks like. But as they show off their skills, it was quite fascinating to learn things about them, that they are flexible, fast swimmer, and quite intelligent, and smart, they can even dance!
As the show ended, I was super excited to gobble up some food. Mind you, exploring those above mentioned is very tiring. Good thing various food establishment are located within the building.
The experience was indeed nice and informative, as it opens your eyes to the underwater world of these creatures, which not all people have the privileged or even the skill to do so. It’s even better to tag along children, and to see the awe in their faces, some of them might even cry as these creatures seem to frighten and intimidate them. I also wonder, what do these creatures feels as people watch them? Do they even care? Does the flashing of the camera frighten them? Do they even know that they are not in the real thing/place? As I wonder through these thoughts, i know one thing’s for sure they get bored on their artificial habitat, so little place to move on, and wander around-swimming back and forth, up and down. Such a dull life, imagine waking up to the same place, where in fact when they are in the ocean, the adventure is endless. I wonder, do they even know how the real thing looks like? Or perhaps never?