Guest Blog by Sharyn MacAulay Murray
It’s the 1st November and the sun is glistening across Tobermory Bay as the last of the crisp morning mist retreats back down the Sound of Mull. Despite the remarkably vivid colours of the world-renowned harbour front, Tobermory looks tranquil, and the usual buzz from tourists and visiting boats has been replaced with the rustling of fallen leaves and the warming crackle of log fires.
As the peak tourist season draws to a close, the people and businesses on Mull are preparing for the winter, including Tobermory’s newest attraction: Mull Aquarium. Run by the Tobermory Harbour Association, a not-for-profit community owned organisation, the aquarium opened its doors to the public for the first time on the 3rd April 2015. It is situated in the Harbour Building in Tobermory’s main carpark, right beside the pontoon berths, making it an easy to reach attraction whether you’re travelling by car, bus or yacht.
However, its prominent location by the sea plays a much more important part in the day-to-day running of this charming little aquarium. Hailed as Europe’s first catch and release aquarium, the sea creatures that can be seen in its 13 marine tanks are all caught locally and released back into the wild after just 4 weeks. From creel fishermen to divers and even enthusiastic beachgoers, members of the community and visiting tourists sustainably collect animals throughout the summer and bring them in, where they are then cared for by the hard working staff and volunteers until they are due to go back out to sea. Not only does this have minimal impact on the marine environment, it also means that the displays are constantly changing; you can guarantee that no two visits will be the same.
Priding itself on its interactive and informative exhibits, Mull Aquarium aims to provide people of all ages with an exciting and valuable educational experience through demonstrations, workshops and outdoor activities. Visitors even get the chance to see the weird and wonderful sea creatures up close during the hands-on touch pool sessions that run throughout the day; children and adults alike are encouraged to get their hands wet during these handling sessions, where they learn fascinating facts whilst gently holding or touching each creature.
Like all good things, the fun unfortunately comes to an end when the aquarium closes for the winter, but not before one final celebration. The last of this year’s sea creatures will go back to the wild during the ‘End of Season Release Party’ today and families from all over the Isle of Mull are braving the November chill to lend a hand. It’s a BYOB event (Bring Your Own Bucket) and the harbour springs into life once more as visitors gather to release their favourite animals along the shore and from the pontoons. Some lucky individuals even get the chance to hop aboard Sea Life Survey’s Nelson 42, MV Bold Ranger; the SLS crew members kindly offered to run trips around Tobermory Bay and Calve Island in order to release some larger and more specialised creatures.
Before we know it, the last animal goes into the water and everyone is busy tucking into some of the scrumptious soup and sandwiches provided by local restaurant Hebridean Lodge. Now all that needs to be done is to scrub down the now unoccupied tanks in preparation for Easter 2016, when the will fun start all over again.