'Professor' with Anne Bourbon. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi’s upcoming aquarium, The National Aquarium, has launched an educational programme that will allow select school teachers to visit the facility and livestream their experience.

The Professor’s Aquademy programme, as it has been named, aims to inspire school children and will offer visiting teachers with an immersive experience with various habitats in what is set to be the largest aquarium in the Middle East. In doing so, it will cover key topics, ranging from the UAE’s coastal heritage to conservation.

In effect, the educational programme is expected to spark interest in the natural world and is a stand-in for school excursions, which are currently not permitted as precautionary measures against COVID-19.

According to a statement sent by The National Aquarium, students will be able to nominate one teacher from their school. The nominated educators will then interact with a water monitor lizard named Professor, as well as with rehabilitated sea turtles and other animals.

The aquarium has said Professor, the lizard, was hand-reared and trained by a certified breeding facility in the Los Angeles that meets all the international standards. It even started its career in Hollywood, pictured with numerous celebrities. In Abu Dhabi, the lizard will be a good ambassador for the educational programme because as a species, it plays a key role in forests, rivers and coastlines, moving across multiple habitats, which are all represented within the 5,000-square-metre facility’s ten zones.

Education is a priority for The National Aquarium. The project is inspired by Baba Dioum, a celebrated Senegalese environmentalist and is designed to open school children’s minds through knowledge and understanding.

Aspen Heights British School was the first school to visit ‘Professor’, triggering a lot of excitement and anticipation for the upcoming educational programme. A professional marine biologist and trained educator from The National Aquarium answered the many questions that students had about the ‘Professor’ during the online Biology class. The education team also explained the importance of preserving the marine environment and how to protect animals.

“We are excited to be the first school to meet ‘Professor’ and work with The National Aquarium education team. This meeting fits well with our focus on providing hands-on learning opportunities to our students. Our children are passionate about the natural world and an important part of our curriculum focuses on the ocean, how our students interact with their natural environment and sustainability. Meeting ‘Professor’ has brought learning to life for them, answered a lot of their questions — all the while giving them even more to think about,” said Emma Shanahan, the school principal.

“The introduction of our education programme and ‘Professor’ is an important component of the aquarium’s ethos — becoming a regional role model in both conservation and education. What we are offering is an approach to learn by getting closer to animals and their environments, with the desire of inspiring young minds to reconnect with nature and think of solutions to achieving a sustainable future. We are convinced that playful learning (edutainment) can have a positive and appealing impact on a child’s education,” said Anne Bourbon, manager of education and conservation at The National Aquarium.

The 'Professor' at the flooded forest in The National Aquarium, Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Supplied

“Monitor Lizards are fascinating animals and ‘Professor’ is an excellent choice as our ambassador since he grew up in close contact with people, particularly children. Moreover, he also represents the connection between land and aquatic environments. He will be the star of our school programs and we are thrilled to introduce him to the students in the UAE for a memorable experience,” she added.

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Schools and teachers in Abu Dhabi can now request, via an email to, a free online educational session to meet ‘Professor’ and set up a video conference call. Ultimately, these educational programmes will be held in person at The National Aquarium when COVID-19 restrictions lift.