They say moving home is the most stressful thing you can do. But when more than 20 species of sea life are moving home from Dorset to Chessington to be pride of place at a new Sea Life centre, the stress levels are likely to rise like flood water.

Which is why one must doff one's cap to Chessington World of Adventures which somehow managed this colossal task last week, and reporter Peter Truman found out how they all managed to stay sane.

When hundreds of wildly excited children burst through the doors to the new Sea Life centre at Chessington World of Adventures (CWA) on Saturday, their eyes will light up at the touchpool, the interactive display and the dazzling menagerie of aquatic life assembled in tanks which evoke coral reefs and deep oceanic landscapes.

And behind the scenes, the staff may allow themselves a small smile, given the task they will have completed.

Their journey began in the summer of 2007. The Leatherhead Road park's children's zoo was looking its age and the management decided a change was needed. They decided on an aquarium.

In September, planning permission was gained for a two year temporary aquarium, with the goats and pigs of the children's zoo relocated to make way for incoming sharks and stingrays. In many ways, that was the easy bit.

Sea Life centre on film

More than 600 miles away, in the Bavarian city of Nuremburg, lay Europe's first mobile aquarium owned by Sea Life, the aquatic arm of Chessington World of Adventures owners Merlin.

Designed to be fully dismantled and easily re-erected anywhere, the centre had spent two years in Dortmund before spending a further two in Nuremberg.

But it was now crossing the channel for the first time to become the latest attraction at CWA. The main aquarium measured more than 500sq m and within it were 100sq m of containers that would hold 250,000 litres of water with 25 marine life displays.

'Fish shui'

Each display had to be specifically engineered for the fish they contained, mimicking their natural environment while not obscuring the view of the visitor.

Robin James, senior curator of displays development, explained: "We have developed a method we call fish shui' It's similar to the Chinese feng shui, but for fish.

"The tanks are designed to provide the fish with an area to flourish as well as providing an attractive display for visitors."

The desire for authenticity stretches to a coastal pool with an inbuilt wave machine.

With the centre constructed and the tanks fit for an aquatic king, there was still the small task of transporting hundreds of different fish, sea anemone and plant life.

They lay 130 miles away, in Dorset, among the sandy beaches and rolling tide of Weymouth.

The sharks, seahorses and stingrays could not be thrown in the back of a van. Mr James takes up the story: "We have had to collect over 100 species of fish from the Sea Life quarantine facility in Weymouth and transport them 130 miles up to Chessington.

"We monitored both temperature and oxygen levels throughout the trip, with the tropical fish needing slightly warmer waters.

"When introducing the fish to their new home, we had to acclimatise them by mixing the water they travelled in with the water in the display tanks before releasing them."


The latter was vital because for some species, such as the octopus, a dramatic change could possibly kill it.

In the main ocean tank, the smaller fish had to be introduced first.

"This was because if the sharks were added first they would claim the tank as their territory and eat any subsequent fish.

Six journeys were made in February and March, each one bringing not just the main attractions, but the sea plants, starfish and other less glamorous entities vital to creating a replica of the diverse ocean and sea life.

And after a total of 780 miles travelled, only the finishing touches remain. Marc Boardman, zoo manager, said: "All the staff at Chessington World of Adventures are so excited that we are only days away from the opening of our new Sea Life centre.

"Our fantastic aquatic feature will allow visitors of all ages the opportunity to come face to face with fish of all kinds, from fascinating starfish to majestic sharks."