Antwerp Zoo Aquarium renovated using composites

Thanks to the outstanding properties of glass fibre reinforced plastics they can be used for a wide range of applications. Antwerp Zoo has used these materials for making moulds and grids as part of the renovation work carried out in the aquarium.

Glass fibre reinforced plastics (FRP) are composite materials made from glass fibres and resin, where the (glass) fibres give the material its strength and the resin provides resistance to chemicals. Moreover, this combination of materials results in a strong, lightweight material, which is suitable for a wide range of applications, also in salt water environments.

The Antwerp Zoo aquarium is over a hundred years old, making it one of the oldest in Europe. Naturally it has been renovated a number of times, including recently. The time taken to complete the renovation was three years. Glass fibre reinforced plastic played a significant role in this extensive project.

Coral reef

The new, large tank at the rear of the building is the culmination of the entire renovation project and was designed to become the main attraction and crowd-puller for visitors to the aquarium. The tank is 12 metres wide, 6 metres long and 4.5 metres in height. In order to accurately replicate the biotope of the fish, the initial idea was to create a coral reef using blocks of moonstone. But because this was going to weigh approximately 35,000 kilograms, an alternative had to be found. Glass fibre reinforced plastic provided the solution.

It was decided to make the ground structure from plastic with glass fibre reinforced plastic grids fitted on top, over which coral moonstones could be laid. This resulted in the total weight of the structure being reduced to 10,000 kilograms. The second important reason for using a glass fibre reinforced plastic structure was that the tank had to be filled with salt water. This ruled out using metal components. Therefore the glass fibre reinforced plastic structures provided the ideal solution. The entire FRP structure is kept in place with plastic anchors and bolts. The grids are fixed to the load-bearing structure by way of a nylon rope.

For the very same reasons, glass fibre reinforced plastic has been used for parts of the aquarium not visible to the visitors. All the tank covers in the aquarium building are also made from FRP.

The renovated aquarium at Antwerp Zoo opened its doors to the public in April 2015.

Photographs: Vink and Antwerp Zoo