Abandoned project: Clifton Aquarium awaits final curtain

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Untended coastal erosion has left the Clifton Aquarium in ruins. A part of the building collapsed in 1998 and the facility was sealed on the basis of being a public safety hazard. PHOTOS: EXPRESS

KARACHI: After keeping the doors of the Clifton Aquarium closed for the public for more than two decades, the Sindh government and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) are planning to abandon the idea of restoring it and have decided to replace it with a museum. The move will completely deprive Pakistanis of the country’s only aquarium, which was once a prominent attraction for adults and children alike.

Interestingly, instead of upgrading and renovating the six historical museums in the city, the Sindh government is planning to convert the aquarium into yet another museum.

Sources in the Sindh government shared that last week, a meeting was held under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary Sindh Mumtaz Ali Shah, where it was decided that a historic museum and cultural centre would be constructed inside the aquarium building with the help of the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to cultural and historic preservation.

The meeting was also attended by high officials of the Sindh government, the KMC, and the patron-in-chief of the Citizens Archive, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

Owing to a shortage of funds, the KMC has been unable to revamp the aquarium while the Sindh government has never released funds for inhabiting marine life in the beautiful building.

A forgotten asset

The KMC built the Clifton Aquarium in 1965, which was inaugurated by the former president of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan.

A total of 33 aquariums were built inside the building for sea fish and 14 for freshwater fish. That aside, a big pool was also installed for sea turtles, together with a workshop, a breeding section and a laboratory in which the water quality was checked. At the time, the Aquarium was a popular attraction not only for Karachiites but for people from all over the country.

Former conservator Sindh Wildlife Fehmida Firdous told The Express Tribune that restoration of the Clifton Aquarium is extremely important.

“Like many other coastal cities of the world, there should ideally be not one but several aquariums in Sindh and Balochistan,” she said.

Firdous said that establishing a museum inside the building of the Clifton Aquarium does not make sense because owing to its proximity to the sea, the location is not suitable for a museum.

“Nature has built an entire world inside the sea which is based on fish, plants and sea creatures, therefore, spreading awareness about marine life is very important since it helps in understanding the ecosystem; hence the restoration of the Clifton Aquarium is inevitable,” she opined.

Out-of-place priorities

Shedding light on the matter, the former pro-vice-chancellor and former chairman of the zoological department at the University of Karachi, Dr Sohail Ahmed Barkati said that it is regretful that there is no aquarium in the entire country for sea fish.

Karachi’s largest public aquarium about to get a Rs100 million facelift

“It is unfortunate that despite living near the long coastal strip of the Arabian Sea, the city does not have an aquarium for marine life,” he said.

He said that 20 years ago, the management of KMC was breeding marine life in the aquarium which did not only benefit citizens but also researchers.

“If the Sindh government is serious about setting up a museum, there are numerous buildings and spots in Karachi that can be considered, however, speaking from a technical aspect, the Clifton Aquarium is built near the sea, which makes it an excellent spot for the breeding of marine life,” he continued.

“The provincial government should hold talks with the University of Karachi or marine life experts and formulate a final plan.”

When approached, an officer at the provincial department of culture and tourism, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that at present, the Sindh government has six museums in various districts of Sindh including Karachi, where historic rare, documents and manuscripts are preserved.

“The Sindh government has also built eight state-of-the-art buildings in various districts of the province for establishing a new museum. But the buildings, that cost millions to construct, remain closed due to non-provision of historic material,” he said.

Chief Secretary Sindh Mumtaz Ali Shah said the recommendation of building a museum inside the building of the Clifton Aquarium is being deliberated upon, however, no final decision has yet been taken.

“The decision would be reached with the mutual consent of the KMC and the Sindh government,” Shah said, adding that the building belongs to the KMC where the aquarium was set up but it has not been functional for the past 20 years.

Under the supervision of the former civil government, plans for renovating the Clifton Aquarium and Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim were made in 2006. The renovation project of Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim was completed within two years. However, the Clifton Aquarium could not be fully renovated.

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