Government Marine Aquarium on the Marina promenade, Madras, established in 1909

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In 1905-1906, Edgar Thurston (Superintendent, Madras Museum, 1885-1908) sowed the seeds for a marine aquarium in Madras, because of Madras’s coastal proximity. This effort eventuated as the Madras Marine Aquarium (MMA) in 1909. Directed by the superintendents of Madras Museum during its initial days, the MMA was handed to the Department of Fisheries, Government of Madras, in 1919. Frederick Nicholson, James Hornell and B. Sundara Raj superintended the MMA in 1909-1918, 1918-1924 and 1924-1942 respectively. From 1919, a research thrust was envisaged. Consequently, reasonable research progressed at MMA utilizing the organisms held in captivity. With the World War II (1939-1945) threatening India, Madras especially, the MMA was shut down in 1942. It reopened in 1955 but more as a freshwater aquarium, disengaging from its original concept of a marine centre. This article clarifies the pioneering efforts made by Nicholson, Hornell and Sundara Raj in bringing organisms live from sea for the common person of Madras to see, enjoy their colours and forms, and learn from them. Efforts made by Nicholson, Hornell and Sundara Raj instilled a sense of what we today refer to as ‘biological diversity’ and ‘phenotypic variation’. The MMA was the spark that ignited the fire of setting up similar educational-cum-scientific institutions elsewhere in India in later years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)869-975
Number of pages107
JournalCurrent Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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