I am not a “fish person”. As I child, I never liked food that came from the ocean. These days, I have learned to patronize fish meals. On a more diversionary habit, I have learned to appreciate aquariums and anything that simulates underwater environs. My mother has nurtured one for several years now, and I loved the gigantic fish tank bearing salt water creatures back where I trained. It had corals that would “flower” during the daytime, then retract to sleep at night. It had clownfish, a lion fish, brittle stars and sea horses.
Recently, my dear friend Chiqui invited me to visit the newly opened Manila Ocean Park (MOP). I have to admit that the prospect of seeing my dear friend excited me more than fish-watching, so – I went! Located at the reclaimed area, at the back of Quirino Grandstand, just beside the Floating Hotel & Restaurant and Manila Hotel, it was obvious that things weren’t quite finished yet – but, they’re getting there.
There was a small fountain in front of the steps leading to the Park. Chiqui and I decided to head down when the park opens at 10 AM (it closes at 6 PM). I met her by the steps so we bought our tickets as we queued among what looked like an already-busy day. We were given a brochure/map as we queued again, waiting for out turn to get inside the main park this time. There was a long line of seats waving through the foyer where we waited for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the line of visitors has started to balloon outside, and down the steps. I did not envy them. It was hot outside and the 36-degree ray of sun was uncomfortable and painful. A lot of these people would fry under such heat. About 15 minutes later, we got inside an open-air park, congested with people milling around the walls of green – ferns and mosses – and on ground level, big fish tanks.
The next area was through a wooden stairway that would spiral down a dark room. This was an enclave of small aquariums placed beside each other; each one highlighting a coral formation, a crustacean, a fish, a sea mammal. Though the area is decidedly cramped into inadequate space where guests could hardly move, and the fish tanks were obviously smaller than I believe they should be, the species inhabiting this masikip area were jaw-dropping!
I am no fish person, but I was blown away by the beauty of such creatures! The corals looked like drawn and hand-painted living beings, and many of the species of fish looked so out-worldly, they might as well be “alien species”. Though I mistakenly brought my hp camera with me (which is BAD with no-flash photography, the only picture-taking allowed inside – or risk the consequences, as warned), I took shots of those that I could! I missed carrying my Cannon G9 which was excellent even with low light situations. Herewith, I am sharing the few good shots that I was able to take, which does not even come close to the jaw-dropping spectacle and beauty that I witnessed at the park!
As you leave each area, you aren’t allowed to go back to the previous, so people are advised to make the most of each section. After the dark room, the next section turns into a gigantic aquarium, with overhead and wall-to-wall glasses surrounding you. There are manta rays smoothly gliding above you. I have heard of comments comparing it with establishments of the same kind from its Asian neighbors, even the ones in Brisbane and Bangkok, but hey, let’s not nitpick. For its admission price of PhP 400 (about $10) for adults and P350 for children, this will obviously suffice! And as I have to reiterate, the current collection is a spectacular and mind-boggling eye candy!
I recently read an article from the PDI about the Manila Ocean Park saying it "cannot handle its own success". With a daily admission of 3,000, their management did not seem to expect such success – and it showed! A weekend ago, crowd once again fried under the sun, queuing for tickets – for 2 to 3 hours! I’ve heard hearsays that this is a Singapore-Filipino consortium. Let’s see if this group will be able to maintain its array of magnificent creatures. My friend Chiqui wanted to see it before the number of unique, out-worldly creatures dwindle and flitter away. She predicted that in time, there will be 30 to 50 % less variety. Let’s hope not!
At the back of these fish tanks, you are ushered to a fine dining restaurant facing the calm seas, where you can gaze at the horizon, brushed with the bluest of skies and whisps of feathery clouds. From such vantage point, Manila Bay has reclaimed its beauty.
If you do not like crowds, you probably would want to skip the MOP, but it’s not everyday that one gets to witness an amazing array of sea creatures that I never knew existed! Though comparably less in scope and grandeur of its contemporaries, MOP is still a must-see! Without the hassle of a plane ride, etc. – Manila residents should take advantage of the MOP, while it still thrives with underwater life. It is also rumored that these dirt-cheap rates might be hiked in 6 month’s time! So, run now!!!
Rates of other similar-themed parks:
Hong Kong Ocean Park – HK$ 19.50 (PhP 104), Sea World in Queensland – Australian $ 33 (PhP 1,281), Siam Ocean World at Bangkok’s Siam Paragon – B750/adult (PhP 988), Kuala Lumpur’s Aquaria (which features piranhas) – MR 38 (PhP513.50), Singapore’s Underwater World in Sentosa – Singapore $17.30 ($70 if you swim with the dugong) ; Shanghai Ocean Aquarium – 120 RMB (PhP 840), London Aquarium at the South Bank (near the London Eye) – 13.25 pounds (Php 1,090), Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour – Aust $29.50 (PhP 1,144). London's ambitious Biota! is expected to open in 2010!
This is how the whole complex will look in a few months. Presently, scaffolds cover most of the facade of the park.
Silhouettes of shark larvae seen through these transparent eggs.
Update: August 2008