After a seven-year hiatus, Detroit’s Belle Isle Aquarium has welcomed back visitors and its collection of butterfly goodieds — a species once thought extinct in the wild.
When the aquarium was forced to close in 2005 due to budget constraints, the goodieds and other fish were relocated to private collections. On Sept. 15, visitors welcomed back the goodieds — and the nation’s oldest operating aquarium — at the reopening celebration.
A aroup effort
The aquarium is operated and funded entirely by volunteers. According to Gary Balduc, a Belle Isle Conservancy volunteer who has been active in the revival efforts, approximately 5,000 people attended the aquarium’s opening celebration.
“I thought it was a crime when I heard it was closed down,” Balduc said.
The Belle Isle Conservancy was formed in 2011 by several non-profit groups to help bring resources to the island park.
“There were a lot of talks with the conservancy and the city, and fortunately, we were in a good spot to reopen,” Balduc said.
Prior to the reopening, the aquarium was awarded grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the historic division of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to repair the green-tiled roof.
According to Balduc, who runs an aquarium maintenance company called The Fish Pimp, all of the fish were donated. He expressed pride in the Belle Isle Aquarium’s fish collection.
“This gar tank is said to be the only collection in North America that has six of the seven gar species in it. They were all donated from a local conservation group,” Balduc said.
The aquarium features about a dozen tanks and a variety of species, including turtles, frogs and fish. The aquarium boasts a spotted moray eel and an exotic flowerhorn fish — an Asian breed that is genetically altered to resemble Buddha.
Since reopening, the aquarium has attracted many families, including Jeff and Gail Halladay and their sons James, 3 years, and Louis, 18 months, of Royal Oak.
“We used to go to the zoo at least once a month,” Gail Halladay said. “We like to do family outings and this will probably be added to the rotation. I came here as a child with my family, and it’s nice to be able to bring my own now.”
The aquarium will be open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission and parking are free.
A crowd waits outside to enter the Belle Isle Aquarium. Approximately 5,000 people attended its reopening celebration Sept. 15.