The 36-incher. The one with shimmery white
scales, marbled black and orange.
It's the koi that could help bring the Belle
Isle Aquarium back to life by creating life.
Rick Armes moves koi and goldfish
from a holding tank in the basement
of the aquarium to containers so
they can be carried to an outdoor
pond. Most of the fish were moved
over the weekend; others will move
Champions of the
historic Detroit fish house -- closed by the
city in 2005 because of budget problems -- want,
with the support of the city, to breed Moe and
some of his koi comrades, sell the offspring,
raise funds and use the money to help reopen the
Koi, with their distinctively colorful bodies
and long life spans, can fetch thousands of
dollars per fish, said Detroiter Darald Chaney,
a consultant to the Friends of the Belle Isle
Aquarium, who builds ponds.
The group has been toying with the idea for a
few months, but knows it's not the only
solution. A benefactor or grants or even just
more donations wouldn't hurt.
But, Chaney said, one thing's certain.
"If it wasn't for those fish, there'd be no
Friends of the fish
In the dank basement of the aquarium over the
weekend, fish nets were sloshed in and out of a
giant tank with vigor, splashing water into
muddy puddles on the concrete floor as
volunteers caught wriggly koi.
The fish were plopped into plastic containers
filled with water and carried, carefully, to a
newly refurbished pond between the aquarium and
the island's conservatory.
The Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium took over
care of the koi, which were spared in the
massive exodus of more than 4,000 fish and other
marine life after the aquarium closed, because
they spend most of their days in that pond.
"Take your time, take your time," Vance Patrick,
president of the group, said as two children
swayed with a heavy, fish-filled bin. "You've
got a lot of lives there you're responsible
for." Most of the fish were moved, but a few,
including Moe, remain in the tank and will be
transported this week, said Patrick of
Koi, depending on their pedigree and size, can
sell for as little as $20 to as much as tens of
thousands, Chaney said. He guesses that Moe is a
pure Japanese koi, worth more and a good
candidate for breeding.
If the group is successful in starting a
breeding program and getting the aquarium
reopened, there is another problem to consider:
Keeping it open.
People in the group say they don't know how much
it would cost to renovate, restore and restock.
Admission revenue helps, but Jennifer Boardman,
secretary of the group, suggests renting out the
space for weddings. Or holding art exhibits.
Anything to draw attention and bring in extra
"So that it could sustain itself," the Lathrup
Village resident said.
Finding a way
In the emptied aquarium, pebbles and parched
coral sit in dark, lifeless tanks behind dusty
glass. Underneath are questions for the curious:
"Do fish drink water?" "How can you tell the
fish's age?" "Do fish get married?"
The aquarium opened Aug. 18, 1904, and claims to
be the oldest in America -- the sign at the
entrance says so.
Patrick and his group have been trying to revive
the landmark since it closed. They've been
raising funds at events and plan to be at the
Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix in August.
Standing outside the aquarium Saturday, he
pointed to Detroit's seal, carved above the
entrance. "Speramus Meliora," it reads in Latin.
Fitting, Patrick said, given the translation:
"We hope for better things. It will rise from
Contact GINA DAMRON at 248-351-3293 or
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