In today’s New York Times, there was a nicely written criticism of the role of the aquarium industry in education and conservation:
Can Man Improve on Nature’s Fishbowl?
Published: April 8, 2007
AQUARIUMS, like zoos, are weird places. We are uncertain they should exist at all, yet if they are there, we want to see them — a fact well known to cities that hope to attract tourists and revitalize commercial districts, and that have built some two dozen aquariums in the last quarter century.
Already more than 4.5 million people have visited the latest and most spectacular example, the Georgia Aquarium, which opened here in November 2005 to a boosterish chorus of oohs and ahhs over the number of gallons, the number of species, the catering by Wolfgang Puck and the IMAX-size tank windows.
The more popular and entertaining aquariums become, the more supporters insist that they educate and inspire conservation. And the more critics worry that aquariums are actually acting as enticing, crystal-clear substitutes for dying oceans.
A couple of other great quotes from this article:
Critics argue that aquariums have the opposite effect: as exhibits grow more technologically sophisticated, they implicitly suggest that oceans are disposable.
If aquariums are hard on fish, they provide a nurturing home for the rosy notion that humans can not only control nature, but improve on it.
sociologists have learned that moral indignation is not the only motivator to action: there must also be emotional and cognitive connections. If institutions give those too little attention, he said, the result is something the educational theorist David Sobel called ecophobia, a state in which the monumentality of the problem immobilizes the viewer.
An encounter with a living being, on the other hand, is a catalyst for action. “This,” Mr. Fraser said, “is the place where the love starts.”