Acquario del Salento in the seaside hamlet of Santa Maria al Bagno of Nardò, despite its modest size, causes awe and wonder even in those like us who have visited other more famous and larger ones.
Live together under the sea!
But we assure you that the Salento Aquarium, opened in 2016 and set up in the premises of a former nursery school, has nothing to envy in color and variety to its “big brothers” such as the Aquarium of Genoa and the Oceanogràfic of València.
In fact, in the 17 seawater tanks distributed in the four thematic rooms, which we traveled with the guide of Valeria Dell’Atti, manager of Fluxus Cooperative Society which since 2017 manages visits to the site, there is no shortage of fish, molluscs, crustaceans and echinoderms of the most varied forms and fluorescent colors.
The plus? To see these forms of marine life it is not necessary to reach remote places but to go where we usually go to the sea for a dip and a nice swim. In fact, the guests of Acquario del Salento live in nature in the waters and on the sandy and rocky Mediterranean bottoms.
In particular, fish, starfish, sea urchins, octopuses and all the other animal and plant species that populate the tanks are typical of the Ionian Sea, from Taranto to Santa Maria di Leuca. So the amazement doubles when you think that you just need to put on a mask and dive into the seabed to discover a colorful and surprising underwater world!
There are many discoveries, starting with the symbol of Acquario del Salento which is the “punk” seahorse called Gaspare, a nice example of Hippocampus guttulatus. You will not find it in the tanks because it is a protected species that has only recently been repopulating our seas, but only immortalized in the giant posters hanging on the walls of the corridor leading to the exhibition rooms, real works of art that the author Virginia Salzedo has made available to the Aquarium for the permanent photographic exhibition “Gaspare and other creatures of the Ionian”.
Not long ago, Isidora the pulpess arrived and played with us through the glass, first spraying ink and hiding in the clay amphora and then attaching herself to the transparent wall looking for our fingers with her tentacles.
The route, which is always guided to offer a better experience and safeguard the animals housed, starts from the room where the Bernardini Cave is represented, located in the area of the Portoselvaggio and Palude del Capitano Natural Park. The submerged cave is made up of two specular tanks: in the darkest part of the cavity the magnoselle or Greek cicadas move and the Bonellia Viridis is camouflaged, an invertebrate object of important research in which the male lives all his life as a parasite in the female’s body. In recent times it has been the subject of important scientific research as it secretes a toxic substance called bonellina which has great bactericidal properties that could make it the third generation antibiotic par excellence capable of killing bacteria resistant to commonly used antibiotics.
In the tank that simulates the open sea, beyond the rocky walls of the cavity, there should be the Apogon Imberbis, a goldfish with big eyes, but it is not there because, as Valeria explained to us, the seasons are below sea level and they follow one another just like on the mainland so the winter period is less colorful than the summer one.
Acquario del Salento respects the alternation of nature as it mainly hosts wildlife, which is periodically returned to the sea and replaced thanks to the support of local fishermen. So right now there are no goldfish that will return when the waters reach milder temperatures.
In the next room there are the tanks in which it is possible to observe life forms that populate the sea up to 20 meters deep: bream, salpe, sea bream, sea cucumber, moray eels, peacock damsels and “king pints” or male damsels, particularly interesting for the phenomenon of hermaphroditism.
The only non-native specimen, but which has now invaded the Ionian coasts representing a danger to humans and pets, is the vermocane, a marine worm with stinging bristles that cause irritation.
Larger tanks host marine species that live up to 25 meters deep including snappers, groupers, cuttlefish, hermit crabs, crabs, the very intelligent Octopus Vulgaris and large carnivorous starfish such as the Marthasteria glacialis.
The last room is that of the deep sea in which the remains of the main shipwrecks and sinkings that occurred during the Second World War along the Ionian coast are reconstructed: the German plane Junker-Ju 88, the Italian steamship Caterina Madre and the English destroyer Quail , among which there are splendid specimens of red scorpionfish, triggerfish, pencil urchins, scholars, menole and royal holothurias.
In the multimedia room, at the end of the visit, we were moved while watching the video that shows the reintegration into nature of a female Blue Lobster from the Mediterranean. Brought to Aquario del Salento by a restaurateur in the area, she had lost a claw, but when she was released she had grown back: it was nice to see her return to her world where she immediately looked for and found a den where she could resume her long life. in freedom that can reach up to 150 years of age.
Meanwhile, in the Aquarium of Santa Maria al Bagno, two small lobsters of a few centimeters remained well hidden in a tank, whose growth is monitored by expert biologists. It will take some time to see them grow up but in the meantime they will remain protected between the glass walls representing one of the few exceptions because, as Valeria told us, it is not common for animals to reproduce in captivity.
The visit to Aquario del Salento is a visit that we recommend to everyone, young and old, to look at our sea beyond the surface of the water and learn to interact in close encounters that can happen in the underwater world. The visit can be booked directly on the website www.acquariodelsalento.it