#Interview : Ambre Benier, Ambre Benier, Manager of the La Rochelle Aquarium

01 September 2022

Can you tell us about the history of the “Aquarium de la Rochelle” (creation, founders, goals)?   

La Rochelle Aquarium was born from a common family passion for the marine world. It is one of the largest private aquariums in Europe, founded in 1970 by René Coutant. His children, Roselyne and Pascale, have developed their father's dream by creating a true, perfectly balanced institution: its 750,000 visitors/ year enable us to finance many scientific research projects and to carry out actions to raise public awareness for the preservation of biodiversity.

Today, the third generation embodied by Ambre and Mathieu, has taken over this unusual enterprise. Thanks to their passion and convictions, they are committed to maintaining the Aquarium as a centre of excellence in the face of the environmental challenges of the 21st century.

The site has received several awards and labels testifying to its commitment to high quality standards. Could you tell us more about this? 

In 2015, thanks to our teams’ mobilisation, our site became the first private tourist site in Charente-Maritime to be awarded with a “Quality Tourism” label. That same year, the Aquarium was rewarded for its accessibility. We have a “Tourism & Handicap” state label for 3 disabilities (hearing, mental and motor). On 12 September 2019, the Aquarium also won at the “Accessible Tourism Trophies”, an award given by the National Association for Tourism and Disabilities. Lastly, in 2021, AFNOR awarded the Aquarium a “NF Environnement Sites de visite” label.

What is the Aquarium's sustainable commitment, in particular? And how is it involved in raising awareness for the protection of oceans and species? 

Limiting our ecological footprint, acting daily for the environment. The Aquarium preserves life and must be exemplary. This explains why La Rochelle Aquarium has a « NF Environnement Sites de visite » certification. This label, issued by AFNOR Certification, rewards cultural and tourism sites committed to an environmental approach. La Rochelle Aquarium, true to its will to help people dream about and understand the sea, in order to better preserve it, has been rewarded for its 60 years of commitment to the ocean.

Ever since it was created, La Rochelle Aquarium has been developing an observation and research programme for marine turtles on the Channel-Atlantic coast and has been implementing the scientific programme of the Marine Turtle Observatory of Metropolitan France and Saint Pierre and Miquelon. It welcomes and cares for marine turtles with the aim of reintroducing them into their natural environment. Its actions are supported by the Ministry in charge of the environment and more recently by the French Office for Biodiversity.

How is the La Rochelle Aquarium a major economic site for the destination (number of visitors, involvement in major local events, etc)? 

With 750,000 visitors a year, La Rochelle Aquarium is the leading tourist site in Charente-Maritime and the second largest in Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It is a true driving force behind the attractiveness of its territory for tourists, and its spin-offs are important for the local economy. 40% of its 750,000 visitors come to La Rochelle specifically to visit the Aquarium. 16,800,000€ are spent in the city each year thanks to our site.

Who are your main clients (pre-Covid)? And what changes have been observed following the pandemic?

Since its creation, La Rochelle Aquarium has always focused on attracting a local clientele. Most visitors come from the area between Nantes and Bordeaux, as well as from Paris and the surrounding area. Foreign visitors account for a mere 10% of the Aquarium's admissions.

What major new features are to be expected (tours, events, etc.)?

There is always something new going on at the Aquarium. Recently visitors have been able to admire albino sea bass among the European meagres and sturgeons, as well as superb mackerels. Majestic schools of tropical sardines, born at the Aquarium, can be seen in the large shark aquarium. Aquariums are like good wine, they improve with time! Some species are decades old.

To complete your visit, an activity booklet dedicated to the superpowers of marine animals allows guests to learn while having fun!