Martha's Vineyard's first aquarium: Waters of the World
Several new species of shark have been spotted in Oak Bluffs waters lately, but don't be alarmed. They're cruising in an 8,000-gallon saltwater tank at Waters of the World, the Island's first public aquarium, which opened recently in Oak Bluffs, in the space formally occupied by Jaba's. It's been a lengthy journey, both for the current inhabitants of its tanks and the small group of people who made it happen. But the way entrepreneur and hard-core fish enthusiast Edward McGill sees it, an aquarium is just what Martha's Vineyard needed.
The soft-spoken 34-year-old from Philadelphia was visiting the Island several years ago with his fiancee, Nilaja Medlock, when the idea first sparked. Ms. Medlock remembers being restless during Vineyard vacations as a kid, when she felt the Island was almost "too relaxing." She notices even today that children are often at the mercy of their parents' idea of a good time on Circuit Ave. "The poor kids, their parents drag them up and down, from shop to shop. They've got nothing to do."
Though still a work in progress, Waters of the World (WOW) has already been impressing visitors. Mr. McGill says, "I want people to come in here and be absolutely excited about what they see."
To this end, he has installed a variety of aquatic displays, from brilliantly colored tropical fish to miniature horseshoe crabs that scuttle across their sandy-bottomed habitats. Four softly murmuring touch pools holding rays and small bottom-feeding sharks invite inquisitive hands. (The larger sharks in the big tank are off limits. "Those are touch at your own risk," McGill warns with a smile, but he's not joking. "They take fingers.") Several small pools percolate with bright orange Koi fish, and chocolate chip starfish move imperceptibly slowly across the glass of their child-height tanks.
Mr. McGill was first introduced to the aquarium hobby by his uncle, and it quickly became a passion. He and a few like-minded friends called themselves "fishheads," and honed their expertise as they sought out and bought rare fish for their home aquariums. "I was totally entrenched in the whole idea of aquarium keeping," he says.
What began as a hobby became a business opportunity, as Mr. McGill entered into various aquarium-related projects, opening retail stores and even working for a large corporation, starting up several public aquariums in New Jersey. Mr. McGill is confident in his abilities. "I would say I could go toe-to-toe with most marine biologists," he says. "They don't necessarily know the husbandry."
But Waters of the World is a strictly personal endeavor. And it was no small feat. Preparations for the building included reinforcing the foundation to prepare for the weight of the water-filled tanks and equipment. A "small" 150-gallon aquarium weighs about 1,800 pounds, and to support the large tanks set up throughout the first floor required digging three feet below ground and pouring thousands of gallons of concrete. With Mr. McGill experienced in large tank set-up and plumbing, partners versed in fish acquisition and international transport, and family members helping with the carpentry, they gradually transformed the former poster and framing store into an aquatic petting zoo.
Waters of the World is an interactive place, where questions are encouraged and learning intended to be fun. There are plans to host field trips, hold birthday parties, and to offer tank maintenance services and pond installation.
Aside from entertaining and educating the public, the aquarium will sell fish food, tanks and supplies. "We're going to promote the aquarium trade industry," Mr. McGill says. "Aquarists are great conservationists. When people are interested in fish keeping, they're more aware of the waters and the potential things we might do to harm them."
Public aquariums offer the opportunity to marvel at creatures that most of us would never otherwise see. These animals are ambassadors of their species, ultimately helping to inspire those who view them to learn more about the significance of conservation.
Waters of the World, 56 Narragansett Ave (corner of Circuit Ave.) 508-693-1313.