Aquatic ecosystems are one of the main biodiversity reserves in the world. Oceans, seas, lakes and rivers are essential for the healthy functioning of the planet, since they provide half of the oxygen we breathe and absorb 26% of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions emitted into the atmosphere.
Knowing the great importance that these ecosystems represent for our own existence, the wisest thing to do is taking proper care of them.
Captain Jacques Cousteau once said: ‘We only protect what we love, we only love what we understand, and we only understand what we are taught’. To achieve the level of protection necessary to restore the health of the underwater world , it is important that humans understand the fragility of the species that inhabit it.
Since it is not so easy to enter an environment so different from ours, this is where ‘TODI – The Ultimate Experience‘ comes into play.
With the passage of the Sustainable Tour we got to know its fabulous facilities and gave an awareness conference on ocean conservation, the role of the diver and the importance of facilities like TODI to bring citizens closer to the underwater world.
TODI Diving is set among industrialized skeleton of Be-MINE, a former coal depot in the municipality of Limburg. The TODI Aquarium represents a part of the city’s sustainable tourism transformation project from an early 20th century fossil fuel mining location that closed in the 1980’s to an award-winning, modern day, urban renovation for those passionate to learn more about the underwater world. Under the guidance of Dirk Heylen, and Wouter Schoovaerts, a 12-year project was initiated to reimagine two giant coal silos used for washing away impurities from the coal into the world’s first Tropical Fresh Water Fish Aquarium for divers to experience. Heated by solar power to optimum temperatures for the tropical fresh water fish of just under 24 degrees Celsius approximately; standing at a diameter of 36m, a depth of ten meters and a working volume of 6.5 million litres of water, TODI provides a clear water experience for those passionate to learn more about the underwater world all year round.
The thoughtful design of the Aquarium’s exterior, allows all those interested to freely access tremendous panoramic views of the Beringen region from the fourth floor. The multi-level terrace allows visitors to see snorkellers and divers actively submerge or re-emerge from the watery depths. An indoor level provides an underwater walk with interactive, fish identification information to help visitors process the range of action happening as they peek through the underwater windows. Each month, family experiences include mermaid interactions from the fish view which help encourage younger generations to gain the confidence to one day have in water experiences of their own. The mermaids ‘meet and greets’ in addition to an array of diving experiences, educate people how to engage with fish life responsibility and engage discussion on the current challenges affecting aquatic life, globally.
Inside the TODI Aquarium, the dive basin has been aquascaped into a fun-filled wonderland of submerged caverns, platforms, swim-throughs optimum for both fish and diver. For recreational and professional divers, TODI is a fantastic opportunity to advance their understanding on fish biology or practice with new technologies benefitting our understanding and experience of the ocean. Each year the TODI fish ecosystem evolves giving divers an opportunity for new encounters. The Aquarium has a state of the art 7 stage filter system that provides the optimum conditions for all the marine life to live sustainably year-round.
The key factor that separates the new wave of indoor dive centres around the world with TODI – The Ultimate Experience is the interaction provided by the tropical, fresh water fish. Quite often, people are aware of the beautiful shapes, colours and behaviours associated with oceanic marine life, but at TODI they are confronted with a range of vividly-coloured tropical, fresh water fish with a variety of temperaments from around the world. As divers submerge from the surface, they can be metres from safe, but thrilling encounters with over 20,000 fresh water fish representing 30 species from lakes, rivers and brackish water around the world. TODI’s fish ecosystem is inclusive of fish species from vital natural water systems including; the Amazon River in South America, the Congo River in Africa and the Mekong of South America. Divers can be at the dinner table with the world’s largest Pufferfish as they crunch their shellfish snacks; bump heads with territorial Flowerhorn Cichlids or be whipped up in a vortex of behemoth, vegetarian piranhas known as white, red and black bellied Pacus. From the Fish View, spectators can be centimetres from giant versions of Plecos cleaning the Aquarium as they feed on algae blooms. Patient observers can spy on the juvenile fish protecting themselves in the rock wall nurseries as they mature safely to an intermediate age. All these rare, fresh water fish life interactions at different depths of the TODI water column help create a lifetime bond between new generations of people, both young and old, whom have the responsibility to support and care for these unique animals and vital ecosystems for the benefit of our healthy planet.
“It is not just about diving, it is also about respecting the underwater world, which has so much beauty to offer,” Dirk Heylen – Founder and CEO.
Looming at a depth of 5metres is a translucent, Jellyfish-like acrylic structure called Nemo’s Garden. Innovated from the Ocean Reef Group (ORG), the giant air-filled pod anchored to the bottom of the Aquarium is an underwater greenhouse growing a variety of plants such as basil, thyme, majoram or fruits including tomatoes and lettuce. The plants are grown hydroponically; without soil in a controlled environment, instead using a nutrient-rich solution to deliver water and minerals to their roots. The Nemo Garden at TODI is continuously monitored by professional divers and marine biology students whom relay data of the plant growth back to the Ocean Reef Group. This data helps ORG understand more about how to optimize the hydroponic process and educate divers to this new technology of agriculture. TODI plays a unique role in data collection as it houses the only Ocean Reef Nemo Garden in a fresh water environment.
TODI Diving is a unique and evolving ecosystem that grants access for visitors to encounter the underwater world. It can inspire visitors to understand the importance of global, marine ecology and fresh water life especially when new solutions to some of our world’s environmental problems are critical to engage.
“The underwater world has so much beauty to offer,” smiles Wouter Schoovaerts, TODI Founder and CEO. “We want everybody to be able to enjoy it so that they not only learn to love it, but also respect it. It is the best place on earth!”
Sean Edwards, Sunken Dreams Productions