Sunday, September 18, 2011
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Jan, Gijs, Jeroen, John (I'm always here), Anniek and Peter
Aquaworld seems to have become a stopping off point for passing field herpetologists (those who spend much of their time turning stones over and paddling around pools looking for snakes, lizards etc etc) and we are, of course, very happy to receive them.
The group above seem a typical, friendly bunch - but they're all infected with the same mad desire to spend a large portion of their free time searching for and reporting on any and all reptiles they come across...
Naturally, I am totally in sympathy!
Although all these visitors were new to me, Jeroen and I have had previous email correspondence and I was really pleased to be able to meet him face to face. When not chasing reptilians around, Jeroen (who holds a PhD) is currently working on estuarine benthic invertebrates of the river Scheldt at the Flemish 'Research Institute for Nature and Forest' in Brussels.
The group's report is now available online and we look forward to seeing any other passing reptile lovers in the years to come.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Matt Wilson, Suzanne and Kevin Byrnes (right to left) were the first serious herpetologists of the year and it was a pleasure to meet with them and trade information. Matt has set up a great web site on herping in Europe - http://www.euroherp.com/ - well worth a look!
In May the big surprise was a call from one of the local hotels saying that they had a fish which had grown too big for their 1.50m aquarium - would we please give it a home? If our tentative identification is correct, we now possess an alligator gar - the largest purely freshwater fish in North America - and at a maximum of about 3.0m, it would certainly have outgrown its welcome in its old home...
So, the season is now well and truely under way and, if you're coming to see us at Aquaworld, we've got more than ever for you to get up close and personal to.
By the way, we now have a FaceBook page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=59402679869&ref=mf where you can upload photos/videos etc - or just drop in to say hello to the other 150 or so members.
If you've visited Aquaworld and would like to write a review for everyone else to read, you can do so at http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g503710-d668754-Reviews-Aquaworld_Aquarium-Hersonissos_Crete.html
We look forward to seeing you all soon,
Judith & John
Sunday, March 22, 2009
It hardly seems any time at all since I last wrote here - but it was, in fact, far too long ago!
Since then we have seen the arrival of several new inhabitants at Aquaworld; Naga, Raja, Yin and Yang - the four Burmese pythons, Mookie - a well-loved green iguana who needed a new home and Georgos - a rather battered little loggerhead turtle found upside down on the beach road here in Hersonissos just yesterday by two local children.
Raja and John
Hopefully, Georgos will recover and, after a little tender loving care, can be relaeased back into the wild as was his predecessor, the ever-hungry Dimitris, last year.
Although looking after reptiles like Sobek the crocodile, the pythons and the iguanas is great fun - getting the chance to help wild animals along the way and to eventually return them to their natural habitat is by far the most rewarding part of what we do here at Aquaworld.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Dimitris enjoying his return visit
Dimitris Cartas first met the inhabitants of Aquaworld Aquarium in August last year, and when he paid a return visit this month it was with thirty-five of his environmental studies class-mates and four of their teachers for company.
The Cartas family was on holiday in Crete last summer and searched out Aquaworld after having read about it on the aquarium website. Mr Cartas senior was so impressed that he wrote in the Visitors’ Book that:
“This is a very well done job. I really enjoyed the facility. The philosophy of this aquarium and reptile base is really pet oriented where I got the opportunity to be very close to reptiles that most of the time we consider unfriendly and dangerous. I was very pleased. I recommend this visit to families with young kids.”
When Dimitris’ school (the 2nd Senior High of Haidariou) decided to visit Crete for their annual excursion, he remembered the little aquarium in Hersonissos and advised his class and teachers to visit it as part of their itinerary. When they agreed, Dimitris took it on himself to make all the arrangements with John & Judith McLaren - curators of Aquaworld.
As part of the proceedings, Dimitris had asked John to give them all a talk on environmental issues – but all notions of formality quickly evaporated when the party met some of the ‘kids’ of Aquaworld. There was a happy, excited and totally uncontrollable buzz as the young students found themselves holding snakes and lizards – very often for the first time in their lives – and delighting in very ‘up close and personal’ experiences.
“Although a lecture proved impossible,” remarked John, “we did have a prolonged and very fruitful Q&A session on an individual basis. The discussion ranged from such things as the reputation of reptiles versus the hard facts, animal conservation and protection of the environment. I found it very satisfying to talk with such an enthusiastic group of youngsters and I feel this bodes well for the future of environmental studies in Greece.”
On leaving, Dimitris added his thoughts to his father’s in the Visitors’ Book:
“This is a very great learning experience and it changes your point of view towards the environment.”
Some of Dimitris' classmates get up close & personal with a rescued boa
Monday, March 12, 2007
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Friday, November 17, 2006
Guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine are the two images of one of the local Cretan scorpions:
If you have any images of any Cretan wildlife that you would like to add to these new pages as they are being constructed, or any information about local fauna that you think should be mentioned, please feel free to send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Colin, thank you for sharing your art with us all. At some stage soon, I'll add them to the main site at www.aquaworld-crete.com - and I will do so with pleasure - beautiful portrayals!
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
but no longer any mention of Crete's first aquarium
"Suggested new signs - which Aquaworld has to pay for!"
Now, these are undoubtedly very attractive signs, and my respects to Lefteris who has wasted his time producing them. You might notice the fundamental flaw - they don't mention the word "Aquarium" or its Greek equivalent "Enythreio" anywhere! They could be directing people to a water park, an aquarium supply shop or, as more than one person has suggested, a scuba-diving centre!
The second problem with these suggested signs is that they are definitely not the correct colours for directing visitors to places of interest. These are clearly, legally defined throughout Europe, and Greece is no exception. You can see the rules if you go to http://ec.europa.eu/transport/road/publications/trafficrules/reports/signs_signals/signs_signals_greece_en.pdf
Pages 24 & 28 clearly show that all "touristic" signs MUST have a brown background, Greek lettering in yellow, and the phoenetic, or English, lettering in white - almost exactly as the "illegal" Aquaworld signs are, in fact.
I have tried on several occasions to get my Aquaworld signs - as they are - legalised, but keep on coming up against seemingly insurmountable walls - "It's not possible" (an official of the Hersonissos council) and "It's too difficult" (a member of the local community police). Since he obviously has the know-how, I have asked Mr Pantazoglou for his assistance on this one. Yet again, no reply as yet.
Now, call me naive if you will, but I still believe that the CretAquarium team are not actively out to scupper Aquaworld, but not one of the many local people I've spoken to believes this. They see a deliberate and calculated campaign to reduce the profile of Aquaworld to zero and to make it all but invisible to visitors to Crete.
What do you believe? Please vote "Yes" if you think there are too many coincidences and that Aquaworld has been targeted:
Monday, September 04, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The Aquaworld aquarium website was recently honoured by the Greek national television service - ERT. It currently takes pride of place in their listing of "No 1" sites and also heads their table for sites concerned with marine ecology.
Accompanying the link, ERT describes Aquaworld as "...a gem, not only for our country but also for the whole of the Mediterranean. The fabulous work and the enthusiasm of the people who decided to create this aquarium is admirable and because of them those who visit Crete have the opportunity to admire the treasures of the Mediterranean up close. Fish, reptiles and various other marine species create an unbelievable magical mosaic ... "
The Aquaworld site was written last winter by John McLaren, founder of Aquaworld, and drew on the Internet Studies he had recently undertaken with Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. Mr McLaren conducted a poll of Aquaworld visitors and carried out extensive video testing of other aquarium sites before deciding on the very simple layout of the Aquaworld site. "People want to know just a couple of basic things about an aquarium - where it is, when it's open, and how much it costs to get in - so these key points are all included on the home page for each language," he says, "but the Aquaworld site allows visitors to go far further, if they wish, and learn much more about Aquaworld and the creatures on display."
Many of the images on the site were created by Jelger and Maaike of Digital Nature - others came from Aquaworld's own archives.
The site was subsequently translated into Greek by retired police officer Nikos Metaxiotis, into Dutch by Petra of Pet Planet - Hersonissos' first pet shop - and into Swedish by Nicole, a Swedish artist living here on Crete and a helper at the Cretan Animal Welfare Group. A German translation is being undertaken by Master of Science candidate Samuel Tanner (studies permitting) at the University of Zurich.
Mr McLaren describes this totally unexpected accolade to his site as "a breath of fresh air following on from our eventual recognition after ten years work by the Greek Tourist Organisation (EOT) last year."
Friday, August 25, 2006
Or “Notes from a Small Aquarium”
It had long occurred to me that Aquaworld should have its own signs in the Hersonissos area to help visitors find their way there. After all, the Natural History Museum, Lychnostasis Museum and various other places of interest to the tourist were clearly signposted – so why not my little aquarium?
Of course, I wanted the signs to be as professional looking as possible and thought it best to adopt the European standard of a brown background with white English language and yellow Greek language lettering.
Having no wish to upset the local authorities, I took Nikos - a retired Greek policeman friend - to help with any language difficulties and determinedly approached the powers that be in the Hersonissos town hall. The receptionist directed us to a very pleasant young man in the accountancy department who listened patiently to Nikos’ explanation (in Greek) of what I wanted and then answered in excellent English by asking what my name was and entering it in his computer. When I asked why, he told me that he was first checking to see if I had any outstanding fines against me for having the one sign that I had had for years on private land at the bottom corner of the street. I breathed a sigh of relief when he informed me that I didn’t!
He then went on to explain that Greek law forbids any signs at the side of the road other than those put there by the authorities. I put forward the notion that this was not really in the interests of a nation which depends so heavily on tourism – how would they find anything? The idea that the Hersonissos council itself should be putting such signs up was met with silence, but it was agreed that the law was stupid.
I had been down this particular road many times before and did not want to get into a discussion about the basis of democracy and how Greek people really should have a means of changing “stupid” laws – I did not wish to see the expression of shocked horror, bordering on heresy, which usually accompanies such outrageous notions – so I let that one pass.
“OK, so, if no signs whatsoever are permitted, how many people have you fined for putting them up?” was my next question. It turned out that, although there was a total of some one and a half million Euros worth of penalties on this young man’s computer, none had been paid since none had ever been issued. This would appear to be one of those wonderful Greek ways of getting things done in spite of “stupid” laws. The council had done its duty by fining offenders – it simply didn’t bother to inform them!
My final, despairing effort went along the lines of “Well, I’ve lived here since 1991, and some of the signs we’re talking about have been here even longer. If they’re illegal – why haven’t they been taken down by the council?” This last effort was met with an enigmatic smile and the one-word answer which explained it all – “Politics!”
As Nikos and I left the offices, he shook his head in sorrow and advised me to put my signs up, regardless.
There things might have rested since I had no wish to have my name added to that large list of offenders – I simply couldn’t afford the kind of fines the council officials were talking about should they ever decide to actually act on them. However, several events were to change my mind.
Arriving back at Aquaworld one Sunday morning after shopping the fresh fruit and vegetables for tortoises and iguanas, I was somewhat alarmed to find the olive trees around my one and only sign being hacked down. I dumped the greengroceries and rushed back to find out what was happening. Two men were obviously as intent on removing all vegetation from the site as any attack by Agent Orange! One of these good fellows spoke English and explained that they were about to bring in a bull-dozer to level the land and that I had two hours to rescue my sign or it would suffer the same fate as the trees. All this on a Sunday morning!
With amazing good grace, my “advertising” man, Vassilis, abandoned his family and came rushing down from Episcopi to dismantle the sign. With equal goodwill, the bulldozer guy lifted out each of the supporting poles with all the delicacy of a dentist performing an extraction and presented them to me, one by one. I now had not a sign to my name…
As a little aside, I sat for a few moments with the tree-felling, land-levelling men and mentioned that I thought that the land on that side of the road was green belt and not for development – even as a car park for the new super market across the road. “Oh no,” I was reassured, “We’re not building anything - just removing the trees, flattening the site and covering it with tarmac – that’s not classed as development.” I took the following picture as a memento of this “non-development” in progress:
The vagaries of Greek planning policy aside, I then sought out the owner of the piece of land just to the left of the bulldozer to see if he would allow me to reposition my poor, battered, old sign there. The worthy gentleman in question turned out to be the local caffeneion owner – and he needed time to think about it. It transpired that he also hoped to rent his land to the supermarket should they find their car park to be too small! During the next couple of days while he contemplated my request, I found definite evidence that a sign or two were really necessary if Aquaworld were to survive.
One English lady and her daughter managed to visit us in spite of being told at their Hersonissos hotel that the only aquarium in Crete was CretAquarium. They followed instructions and were disappointed not to find Snap, Blondie, Stephania and all the others they had read about on the Aquaworld website. Eventually they happened to hear about us from another family and were delighted to eventually find us. It turned out, the lady confided on their second visit, that a relative of the hotel owners worked at the new aquarium and that they thought she could only be asking about it!
A young Dutch couple, waving one of my Aquaworld flyers around and knowing that it was close at hand, asked final directions from a taxi driver at the rank just around the corner. “Oh, aquarium!” he told them, “I know where that is. I’ll take you for 15 Euro.” Needless to say, even the worst of taxi drivers would not ask such a price for a 100m journey!
Finally, when the caffeneion owner had given his consent and my original sign was back up, a family arrived who had had a similar experience. They had homed in on us, to within 50m or so, only to be told by the assistant at a sports wear shop directly opposite the sign (she must have spent hours gazing at it whilst waiting for the odd customer) that it was much too far to walk and they needed to take a taxi or the bus.
By this time, my nerves were getting raw and Vassilis was summoned down from the hills again. I told him exactly what I wanted – down to the colour scheme and the wording – and off he went to “design” the signs. I should have realised that this was the wrong word because, sure enough, he turned up a few days later with wonderful red, black and yellow printouts of his proposals. A quick car trip later to view “Eco Park” (whatever that is), “Natural History Museum” and “CretAquarium” signs, he got the gist and my new, illegal signs went up rapidly.
Of course, and especially since the road Aquaworld is situated on leads to the council offices, I expected official fallout the following day – but came there none. I drove around every morning checking that all three were still there and finally, after a couple of weeks, breathed a sigh of relief and decided that life was not so bad after all.
This euphoria lasted until the last Friday of July.
The phone rang that morning and I was informed that we would have no power at all the following day! Since kids’ clubs were due to arrive the next morning from both Kokkini Hani and the nether regions of Hersonissos, I quite naturally exploded - but was assured that it was all part of the “Heraklion Plan” and had nothing to do with the local electricity (DEH) office. It transpired that the blackout was to allow new cables to be strung up for, you guessed it, the new supermarket on the corner!
Again, a small aside here. I went complaining to the local DEH offices some years ago regarding not knowing about scheduled cuts (I also mentioned by-passing areas where work was to be done so that cuts could be minimised – but was assured that “we don’t do that here…”). I asked to have my name added to the list of those businesses which had a “need-to-know” about such goings-on, but was gruffly told that there was no such list in Hersonissos. The guy on the cash register took pity on me and my fish and asked for the Aquaworld number. He wrote it on a post-it and stuck it to the till. I guess it’s still there and I owe him an apology since he still remembers to ring and warn me!
But, back to that fateful Friday morning.
After I had resolved to rent a generator the next day (the last one we owned for such emergencies was stolen) and had calmed down somewhat, two workmen arrived to tell me that they had been ordered to remove all my signs – even the old one!!! In all fairness to them, they thought it was pretty unfair and that’s why they’d stopped by to let me know. Unfortunately for them though, they had caught me at a rather bad moment, to put it mildly. I demanded that, if they were going to remove my signs, they should also remove every other illegal sign in the whole area! After my wife, Judith, had calmed me down a little, I asked who had ordered their removal and they agreed to go away somewhere while I returned to the council offices and sought this miscreant out.
Mr Georgos Danelakis turned out to be the deputy mayor of Hersonissos and, fortunately, I had to wait for a while outside his office before he could see me. The comely young receptionist offered me water (I drank three cups) and promised to bring her family to Aquaworld when I told her of all my woes. Two phone calls from Judith ordering me to calm down also helped. The hands stopped shaking and I was ushered in.
On realising my lack of proficiency in the Greek language, Mr Danelakis kindly switched to English and told me that I was, in effect, “stealing water.” I thought that this must be some idiom which had gotten a little lost in translation, and insisted that I was only trying to preserve my few little “tabeles” – or signs – to let people know where Aquaworld was. However, someone else must have been really guilty of stealing water because that’s what he thought the whole issue was, quite literally.
Anyway, once we were past that little hurdle, I asked why he had ordered the removal of my signs and was assured that he hadn’t. “Maybe it was the police…” he mused. “No,” I replied “Two council workmen said that you had told them to do so.” With that, he picked up the phone and had a brief conversation with “the major.” It wasn’t until some time later that I realised he meant “the mayor” – so my confusion continued unabated.
Eventually it was established that the “other aquarium” had complained about my three signs causing the very confusion I had sought to resolve and that this was the source of the problem. With my assurance that I would sort it out personally, Mr Danelakis agreed that both he and the “major” had no problem with my signs if we two aquaria decided on an amicable solution.
Hastening back to Aquaworld, I telephoned the “secretariat” of CretAquarium and asked, somewhat tersely, to speak to the manager, Mr Papadakis. I was informed that he was in a meeting and unavailable. I left my name and number, the nature of the problem, and asked that he contact me as soon as possible.
An hour and a half later, I phoned again and got the same member of the secretariat (I thought that was something in the Kremlin, in another era, but I could be wrong). I was told that Mrs Polychronaki, not Mr Papadakis, would be contacting me, but that she hadn’t had time to do so, as yet.
Determined to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, I asked the young lady to let her know that, if she hadn’t phoned me before then, as soon as Aquaworld closed, I would drive to CretAquarium to see her. This caused a little consternation and I was asked at what time that would be.
“Well, I close at 6.00pm, so I’ll be there by 6.30 or so.”
“She won’t be here then,” I was told.
“Excuse me, but CretAquarium is open until 9.00 pm. Are you telling me there are no members of management on duty after 6.30?” I asked in some disbelief.
“Yes” was the answer.
I leave you to decide on that point, but Mrs Polychronaki did indeed phone me an hour or so later. She stressed several times that no “official” complaint about my signs had ever been lodged, but noted that there had been some discussion over “confusion” between the two aquaria (who said what to whom will always, I suppose, remain a mystery), but we agreed to cooperate in any way we thought appropriate to reduce such confusion and this message was relayed back to a thankful Mr Danelakis.
Foreign visitors very rarely have any difficulty, in fact. They can tell the difference between Aquaworld and CretAquarium. The main problem seems to be with Greek folks who only see the word “enythreio” (my best approximation of the Greek for “aquarium”) on a sign and assume what they will. The fact that Aquaworld has existed for over eleven years often, but not always, goes unnoticed.
Oh yes, the visit from the kids’ clubs went ahead without a hitch – although the generator was very noisy –and they all enjoyed it.