The idea to create an Aquarium at the University of Liège was the result of the marked interest in marine biology, oceanography, ichthyology and hydrobiology by the worthy Zoology professors, and their students, who followed each other in the University’s Zoology Institute since its foundation in 1888.
Edouard Van Beneden (1846 – 1910) was the founder of the prestigious Institute and the person primarily responsible for the development of this research trend. Désiré Damas (1877 – 1959), a fisheries specialist, is considered to have been the country’s first oceanographer. Finally, Hubert Damas (1910 – 1964), son of the aforementioned, became a renowned hydrobiologist.
All left their mark in the field of biological oceanography in Liège, as reflected in a great deal of the research done today.
Shortly after the Second World War, in 1947, Marcel Dubuisson (1903 – 1974) was put in charge of the zoology teachings. He then continued, in a spectacular manner, the tradition of the study of marine biology in Liège by notably deciding to create the Aquarium that today bears his name.
From the beginning a triple objective was assigned to the new institution: to support scientific research, to illustrate the university teachings and popularise marine biology by opening its doors to the general public. Simultaneously, the rich zoology collections accumulated over the past century were completely reorganised in an attractive and didactic Zoology Museum.
The project was part of the general renovation and modernisation works of the Institute that became necessary after the ravages of the previous world war, as well as to offer an appropriate structure for research and teaching according to the newest requirements.
The construction of the Aquarium required the installation of complicated machinery – thermal regulation, purification, circulation and oxygenation of the waters, electromechanical equipment, etc. – by specialists from the University and the Ministry of Public Works. The general design, the supervision of the works, the installation of the tanks and the constitution of the first collections were confided to scientists who worked non-stop to complete this project: J. Godeaux, A Distèche, M. Chardon, J.-Cl. Ruwet...
Achieved within the deadline, the public hall of the Aquarium was inaugurated by the academic and city authorities on November 12th 1962.
In the beginning, the Aquarium had 27 exhibition tanks and 21 experimental and reserve tanks, hidden from the public. They were distributed in four sections, fed by four completely independent circuits: cold freshwater (15°), hot freshwater (25°), cold seawater and hot seawater. The public hall, soundproofed and air-conditioned, was only lit by the light filtering through the tank windows.
Continuing with its triple objective, the Aquarium developed its own research teams, both fundamental and applied, revitalised the different research subjects in other laboratories within the Institute, made its collections available to students of all levels and, finally, carried out the promotion, maintenance and exhibition of its collections in view of a large dissemination of knowledge to the general public.
The high degree of organisation and animation achieved under various forms by the Aquarium – guided tours, inauguration of new exhibition halls, creation of new tanks, presence of informative panels and brochures etc. – is due to the will and enthusiasm of its personnel. This ensemble allows the Aquarium at present to total up 46 exhibition tanks with some 2500 inhabitants and makes it a pillar of tourism in Liège as it’s the most visited Museum in Wallonia with more than 80 000 visitors a year.
Its financial infrastructures depended on the University and the City of Liège. They were relatively stable during close to 20 years, faced some real difficulties in the 1980s, reaching a true state of crisis in 1990. The City of Liège and the University, confirming their will to maintain the Institution, negotiated a new structure of stable management, but granted a large flexibility for action, by means of the non-profit APAM Lg – Association for the Promotion of the Marcel Dubuisson Aquarium and the Zoology Museum of Liège – created December 21st 1991. Working successfully since then, the Aquarium must nevertheless assure its future by developing perspectives for the mid-term and long-term, which is being done today.