JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel is known as the land of the Bible. It's a land rich in archaeological treasures and a place of innovation and technology. It even has a biblical zoo, where Jerusalem is opening the first aquarium of its kind in the Middle East.
A massive tunnel under the Mediterranean Sea exhibit is bound to be one of the main attractions at the new Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem.
The tunnel is part of the aquarium's 400,000 gallon tank that's now part of Jerusalem's biblical zoo. It will hold sharks and other fish from the Mediterranean Sea.
"We are addressing and emphasizing only one issue – the local habitats. We will deal only with the Med Sea – the Mediterranean Sea – the Red Sea, [a] little bit of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea," said biblical zoo and Israel aquarium CEO Shai Doron.
One of the main thrusts of the aquarium is to raise awareness about wildlife habitat preservation in the sea.
"Not only [to] look [at] what the sea can give us to us – fishing, desalination, gas drilling, oil, transportation, security – we need to start, as Israelis and tourists from all over the world – [to] start to understand that the sea, the ocean is inhabited," Doron told CBN News.
The aquarium aims to have something for everyone, like the interactive "popup" where visitors can crawl inside a Plexiglas bubble and be surrounded by a Red Sea coral reef with clown fish swimming around.
Rays are swimming in another shallow pool to show they are found in the Mediterranean Sea. Visitors will be able to buy special food and feed them.
In other places visitors have to search for the treasures – like fish that are completely camouflaged to look like the rocks.
"It's again part of the new trend of visiting zoos and aquariums – not everything we see immediately. It's [a] discovery process," Doron explained.
In a pre-opening tour, CBN News was given a behind-the-scenes look at the core of the aquarium – the breeding, research and quarantine center. From there divers and aquarists will also enter the huge Mediterranean Sea tank to feed the fish and sharks or attend to veterinary needs.
The path ends at what's called the "commitment" room. There visitors are urged to pledge to protect sea life by promising things such as not to drive four-by-fours along the shore and not to take sea shells or bring plastic bags to the beach. If they sign the pledge, they can take their picture that goes on a wall.
"When we are finding a shark or a whale or sea turtles dead we open the stomach and we see it's full of plastic bags. Why plastic bags? It's not tasty, but those creatures think the plastic bags are jellyfish," Doron explained.
Even though there are great aquariums around the world, Doron says this one has something special.
"When we entered the building we spoke about the dark experience, but the only place we are [letting] the sunlight into the building, this is here – the real aquarium of Jerusalem," Doron said while standing in the commitment room. The enormous panoramic window looks out over the hills of Jerusalem.
"The view of the Jerusalem hills is part of the experience," he said. "You have beautiful aquariums all over the world, but this view is unique only to Jerusalem."
The Israel aquarium is slated to open later this summer.