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Wild Reef! (Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium pours in $ 45 M to recreate a Philippine marine sanctuary )
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Ivy Lisa F. Mendoza
Date: 2008-01-13
Negros’ Apo Island Marine Reserve has been "moved" to Chicago!

This one is not for Ripley’s because it is true and it has been done — with the Apo Reef being showcased in an ambitious, $ 45-million exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois dubbed as "Wild Reef."

Eight years in the making, four years of research, 750,000 gallons in the filling, and with 27 sharks on display in a 400,000–gallon, the permanent exhibit which opened in 2003 gives viewers a closer look into the coral reef resources of the Philippines.

Department of Tourism (DoT) tourism attaché Vernie Velarde-Morales couldn’t be any happier over the fact that Shedd Aquarium, which gets two million visitors a year, has chosen to showcase this great Philippine natural attraction.

"It makes our work more significantly credible. When we want to let people here in the Midwest region know more about the Philippines, especially the divers, we proudly tell them to visit Shedd Aquarium and get a sneak peak of what is in store for them when they go," Morales explains. (The nearby Field Museum, Morales adds, also has an entire wing of Filipiniana collection, including turn–of–the–century items, on exhibit.)

It was a cinch for Apo Island to be chosen by the 77–year old aquarium to highlight the whole new wing that was built specifically for Wild Reef. With Indonesia and New Guinea, the Philippines forms a triangle that is home to more species of ocean animals than anywhere on earth.

Furthermore, of all countries in the world, the Philippines has the most amazing and the most diverse marine resources. While the famed Australian Great Barrier Reef has 350 coral species and 1,500 fish species, the Philippines has 450 coral and 2,500 fish species.

The Wild Reef exhibit is the second expansion in the Shedd’s history, doubling its aquarium capacity and adding 28,000 square feet—underground, 25 feet below street level. Shedd Aquarium which opened in 1930 was at one time the largest indoor aquarium in the world, with five million gallons of water and 25,000 fish ( Among its stellar attractions are the massive 90,000 gallon exhibit reproducing a Caribbean coral reef (1971), an Oceanarium (1991), and of course, Wild Reef (2003).


The Wild Reef exhibit will make any Filipino proud that he has been born in this amazingly beautiful country.

The experience begins right at the elevator that takes the visitor to the basement. The ceiling is painted to simulate the country’s clear blue skies, amid a piped-in cacophony of sounds that include the chirping of birds, the sound of ethnic musical instruments, and a smattering of human noises that are unmistakeably in Tagalog and Ilonggo dialects.

As the lift opens, the guest is welcomed by a warmly–lit wall that says "Wild Reef" with a giant Philippine map painted beside it. There and then, guests know that they are in for an exciting ride!

"Shallow seas and sunshine make the Philippines a coral paradise. More kinds of coral live in the Philippines than anywhere else in the world. A stable environment, warm shallow seas, bright tropical sun and thousands of islands provide Philippine corals with the right conditions and enough time to evolve hundreds of coral species," the introduction to the exhibit explains.

Wild Reef recreates and explores the ecology of Apo Island located in Dauin, Negros province. Showcased are living coral, multiple species of fish, and rays, and a collection of sharks.

Interspersed with the tanks are signs that give the viewers an idea of what life is on Apo Island which is inhabited by about 800 people. There are specific literature on Philippine mangroves, eels, fishes, and even on Philippine sea legends and origins of places.

The main draw of this attraction is a 400,000–gallon shark exhibit with 12 foot high curved windows, allowing visitors a diver’s eye. Sharks—whitetip, blacktip, zebra, wobbegong and sand bar—are clearly the stars of the show.


Towards the end part of the exhibit is an area that showcases the reef management program of Apo Island. This comes as no surprise as Shedd Aquarium has been a staunch supporter of Project Seahorse which works with Philippine communities to promote responsible reef management.

In this area of Wild Reef, guests go through modules that explain how Apo Island has successfully evolved from a dynamite fishing community in the 80’s, to becoming a model for communities in reef management.

This specific area also lauds the villagers of Apo for winning the best managed reef in the Philippines in 1996, under the patient stewardship of scientists and social workers from Silliman University. These islanders now teach other communities proving that indeed, it takes a village to reclaim a reef.

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