Under the Sea at Newquay Zoo

living coral reef page 1989 guide .jpgOur Aquarium section at Newquay Zoo has very few records. It appears there were aquarium tanks or sections at two different stages of the zoo’s history.

Some visitors have mentioned a possible first aquarium area of which I have found no trace or existence on our zoo maps (see previous blogpost). The first aquarium or vivarium type tanks I know of were  in the first one story Tropical House (1969 – c.1987) about which we know very little. There are no index cards from 1969-75 for fish, only  a few for toads.

Our first Tropical House, 1969 Photos; Ernie Littlefield / Newquay Zoo.


1969 then and now tropical house 2

Our ‘Second’ Aquarium

We know our second version was in the ‘new’ Tropical House.  I helped dismantle its second version in the back room of the c. 1987 Tropical House after about ten years in 1996/97. We created  a Minibeasts Room for bugs and indoor animal encounters, which has just been redeveloped (2016).

Newquay Zoo Tropical House, built 1987 (Photo, Mark Norris, 2016)

The aquarium had been closed and drained for over a year at least when I helped empty and demolish this aquarium c. Winter 1996.

Lowering myself through the loft hatch into the tanks to remove the rocks and gravel, I made one startling discovery in the inch or two of water that remained.  One surprisingly feisty Jack Dempsey Cichlid fish had escaped notice!

This lively fighting fish  lived on in a new tank for several years afterwards, displaying to new rivals.

What animals were once part of this Aquarium?

We have some clues to help recreate this vanished undersea world at Newquay Zoo.

The Newquay Zoo ‘colour in’ Children’s  Guidebook c. 1989 has a brilliant  page showing what was in the Aquarium tanks. In one tank were Piranhas (glad none of those had escaped notice and survived when I was clearing their tank!) In another were  Axolotls.

In the main Living Coral tank were Starfish, Sea Anenomes, Green Chromis, Long-nosed Hawkfish, Orange Clownfish, Hermit crabs, Blue Damsel fish, Sergeant Majors, Black Footed Clown fish, Clams, Sea Apples and Corals.

Some colour signs survive with clues to our former aquarium tanks:


We have some standard http://zoosign.com  aquarium signs  (commercially available, based on Chester Zoo signs) from the 1980s or 1990s. Interesting chatting to Stewart Muir, our Director of Living Collections at all three of our zoos, as he painted some of the small mammals signs for this series but can’t take the credit for the aquarium ones.

banded pipefish

However we have some much older looking signs, which appear hand-painted or maybe transfers. We have scanned these as they are growing delicate,  paint is now flaking and the varnish yellowing with age.

The backs with pencil scrawl “Newquay” are still as white as the day they were painted or printed.

Newquay fish sign back

We have very  gently cleaned them up from their muddy state, probably from years in a store space where they were found abandoned a few years ago. Whilst some have suggested they belonged to an original Harbour Aquarium in Newquay, we are fairly sure they were once part of Newquay Zoo. They match some of the species in the 1989 Newquay Zoo Children’s Guide.

Some like the Spotted Shrimp sign we have scanned ‘as found’ to show some of the dirt!

Some of these species like Green Chromis appear in the 1989 Guide / Living Coral Reef tank.

spotted shrimp uncleaned
Spotted Shrimp sign, Newquay Zoo aquarium – uncleaned as found


boxer shrimp

Some have no names (Nemo!) but are easily recognisable as Clownfish, made popular by Finding Nemo.


Some have no names – the labels were possibly done by hand in Letraset!

green fish .jpg

clown sweetlips.jpg

false gramma



Some names are almost unreadable like this Finfish?

green chromis



yellow seahorse

yellowtailed damselfishThese signs are now all scanned so they can be carefully stored away for future generations to enjoy. Beautiful and well worth preserving.

Redesigning Signage

We used some of these beautiful  signs this month with Redruth School. These students were visiting to look at enclosure design but also how information is presented in the Zoo, showing a range of signs from the 1970s up till our current signs. Students liked them but found them very limited in information.

We are currently designing the next range or generation of Newquay Zoo signs, working with our graphics team at Paignton Zoo.

Fish signs have returned to the Tropical House in 2016, newly  designed with our graphics team at Paignton Zoo. Panda garra sign, Newquay Zoo Tropical House.

No aquarium photos have yet been found in our archive  of the Aquarium tanks or Living Coral Reef tank in the Tropical House. Admittedly aquariums are hard to photograph being full of  darkness and glass but hopefully some photos will one day turn up. If you have some, we would love to share pictures of the old Newquay Zoo Aquarium on this site.

Where Fish Swam

This whole back room of the former aquarium has been rebuilt throughout spring and summer 2016 by Dave and our Maintenance team and Tropical House keepers Gareth O’Dare and Eva Fowler.

It looks brilliant, even lovelier than  when we redesigned it all in 1997. Well worth popping in to have a look!

Where the central Living Coral tank once stood in our Tropical House, a huge poison dart frog tank stands today. New reptile, amphibian and invertebrate enclosures have now been beautifully rebuilt. (Photo during building  May 2016: Mark Norris)

It’s very busy and too popular in there to photograph at many times of the day but I will post another completed picture of this new room and what once used to be there soon!

A last aquarium legacy?

Amphibian Breeding Centre window, Pump Room, back of 1987  Tropical House, Newquay Zoo (photo: Mark Norris)  

Extensive plumbing was found and removed whilst renovating this former and now forgotten aquarium section.

Inside the Pump Room, once full of big filter tanks and pipes, now home to our Amphibian Breeding Centre, Tropical House, Newquay Zoo. Photo: Mark Norris

Its name however  lives on in one curious room at the back of the Tropical House, featuring the Amphibian Breeding Centre window onto our endangered amphibian breeding area. This was once home to massive UV and other filtration  and pumping equipment. This is still known to staff  as the “Pump Room”.

The Door to Adventure (KEEPERS ONLY) – the ‘Pump Room’ at the back of the Tropical House, Newquay Zoo. Photo: Mark Norris.  

Posted by Mark Norris, newquayzoohistory blog / Newquay Zoo, June 2016