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  • Friday : 10:00AM - 05:00 PM
  • Saturday : 10:00AM - 05:00 PM
  • Sunday : 10:00AM - 05:00 PM

Discover the rich biodiversity of the world’s rivers and lakes in our Freshwater Fun exhibit – from the red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) to the cute-as-a-button axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum).

While many of the animals displayed at Blue Reef Aquarium originate in our seas and oceans, that’s only half the story. Over at Freshwater Fun, you can enjoy close encounters with a smattering of non-marine species, many of which are found in the Earth’s most precious freshwater habitats.

Join us for a virtual tour of this awesome Blue Reef exhibit, as we showcase some of the beautiful freshwater species you’ll encounter along the way.

What is freshwater?

Freshwater is the term given to all water on Earth that isn’t seawater. It comprises lakes, rivers, streams, reservoirs – even surface water from rainfall and atmospheric moisture.

Scientists believe that freshwater accounts for around 3% of the water on our planet, which, above anything else, gives you a new-found appreciation for just how massive our seas and oceans are. Even still, freshwater is thought to cover roughly 20% of the Earth’s surface, contained, as it is, in millions of miles of rivers and countless lakes all around the world.

Unlike seawater – or ‘marine’ water – freshwater is much less salty (less than 1% salt content) and has very different temperatures, light, and vegetation. This means that it can support thousands of organisms that wouldn’t survive in a marine habitat, from snapping turtles (Chelydridae) to catfish and everything in between.

Of course, there is another type of water found on our planet, and that’s brackish water. Often found in estuaries and waterways close to the sea, brackish water is a combination of both marine and freshwater, which itself supports a plethora of species – including the archer fish (Toxotidae), on display here at Blue Reef.

Freshwater vs seawater: What are the main differences?

Our freshwater area isn’t simply a way to showcase the beautiful creatures found in our rivers and lakes. It also presents an opportunity to learn about the key differences between saltwater and freshwater habitats, and how the ecosystems they support have helped shape the species that call these waterbodies home.

Of course, the main difference between freshwater and saltwater is salt. In freshwater, the salinity level is around 1%, rising to 2-2.5% in brackish water. Meanwhile, in the sea, the salinity level is around 3.5%, which from an environmental standpoint is a significant leap.

Since seawater contains 1.5% more salt than freshwater, this has impacted the species that live in our seas and oceans and how they’ve evolved. And the same is true of freshwater species, which have developed unique physical features to cope with the reduced level of salinity found in freshwater ecosystems vs the seas and oceans.

Tap here to learn more about why marine animals can’t live in freshwater and vice versa.

What is freshwater’s atmosphere like?

Since freshwater is found in different regions all around the world, it’s difficult to describe exactly the kind of conditions that it affords the various species that live within it. For instance, a river in Central America will offer a very different environment to a lake in Siberian Russia, which gives you a sense of how varied and diverse freshwater species are.

What animals will I find in Freshwater Fun?

We aimed to cast our net as far as possible when curating a cast of characters to put on display within our freshwater area. The result? The ultimate showcase of freshwater species, with 30 animals in 19 display tanks.

On your journey through Freshwater Fun, you’ll meet smiling axolotl and crafty archerfish (Toxotidae), which use a unique “shootdown” predation technique to prey on land-based critters. You’ll get up close to the inimitable red-belled piranha and the small but deadly bumblebee frog (Dendrobates leucomelas), whose skin contains enough toxins to bring down a fully grown man. And you’ll encounter the spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura pectinata) and the yellow lab cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus), renowned as one of the most beautiful freshwater fish in the world.

Here’s a closer look at some of the beautiful river and lake-dwelling creatures to be found in Freshwater Fun…

Amano shrimp (Caridina multidentata)

Did you know? The Amano shrimp is named after Japanese aquascape enthusiast, Takashi Amano, who is credited with raising the profile of shrimp for their algae-controlling abilities.

Glass catfish (Kryptopterus vitreolus)

Did you know? The glass catfish is almost fully transparent, hence its name. It’s native to the waterways on the Isthmus of Kra, which drain into the Gulf of Thailand.

Scat fish (Scatophagus argus)

Did you know? Scat fish can survive in freshwater, marine water, and brackish water, and are common in estuaries, harbours, mangroves, and other coastal waters.

Reeves’ turtle (Mauremys reevesii)

Did you know? The Reeves’ turtle is semiaquatic and is seen swimming in shallow freshwater pools and basking in the sun on rocky outcrops.


Freshwater Fun, like all areas of Blue Reef Portsmouth Aquarium, is fully accessible to those with mobility issues, including wheelchair users. To find out more, please visit our accessibility page.

Who would enjoy the Freshwater Fun exhibit?

Exploring the beautiful creatures and distinctive biome of Freshwater Fun is engaging and educational, highlighting the important ecological differences between freshwater and saltwater ecosystems. There really is something for everyone here, from schools and groups eager to learn, to families and friends with a simple love for animals and nature.

Current Water Temp

15 / 59

Water Type

Fresh Water

Climate / Biome

Temperate Rivers

In This Exhibit

30 Species | 19 Tanks

Where are we?

Northern Europe, North America and Asia

In This Exhibit

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