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Attenborough calls for high-tech aquarium

SIR David Attenborough, the naturalist and broadcaster, yesterday supported the idea of building a multi-million pound high-technology aquarium in Britain 'to teach an increasingly urbanised population about the natural world'.

Modelled on existing aquariums in New Orleans, Monterey, Boston and Tokyo, it could be sited either at Regent's Park in London, or in Plymouth. 'People go to them in large numbers,' Sir David said. The one at New Orleans had 2 million visitors in its first year.

The Marine Biological Association, an internationally renowned scientific research organisation based in Plymouth, has been trying to raise funds for a

national maritime aquarium there, while an aquarium is one of the developments that has been mooted to help London Zoo out of its current crisis. 'These things make a profit,' Sir David said. 'Some of the US institutions have made enough money to launch their own marine biology research programmes.'

Sir David will be discussing the educational value of modern aquariums at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in Southampton next week.

The week-long meeting, 'Science Festival 92', is expected to attract up to 6,000 people to a range of lectures, 'hands-on' science experiments, and demonstrations.

One notable absentee from the country's largest science jamboree will be the country's first Minister for Science in three decades. Officials said that William Waldegrave, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had turned down an invitation to go to Southampton. He will be on holiday. His junior minister, Robert Jackson, will be attending instead.

Sir David, who is this year's president of the association, revealed yesterday that his interest in the natural world - which led eventually to television spectaculars such as the Life on Earth trilogy being shown on the BBC - was fostered by the association.

In the 1930s, when he was still a boy, the association held its annual meeting in Leicester, near his home. Papers on geology presented at the meeting fired his interest to go out and look at the local pre- Cambrian Charnwood rocks. But Sir David warned that the association was perilously short of money. It had to live an extraordinary 'hand-to-mouth existence for an organisation tackling as important a national issue' as popularising science.

'We have the energy and the will to do a great deal more, but it depends on money,' he said.

The association hopes to double its income over the next five years to improve its efforts to promote public awareness and understanding of science and technology.

It will be seeking more funds from industry and from charitable trusts, but it will also be approaching the Government, in the guise of the new Office of Science and Technology, to try to secure more public funding.

(Photograph omitted)