A green energy company from St Asaph has helped turn a sea zoo into the UK’s first solar powered aquarium – and the sun’s rays are now helping to revive a rare sea turtle.

The boost from the banks of solar panels fitted by Carbon Zero Renewables are already providing vital warmth for the Olive ridley turtle at Anglesea Sea Zoo.

The animal, nicknamed ‘Menai’, was found fighting for its life just yards from the door of the top tourist attraction on the shores of the Menai Strait.

The Sea Zoo was taken over 10 years ago by entrepreneur Frankie Hobro and now specialises only in British marine life, focusing on sustainability, conservation and education, and housing over 100 different species of sea creatures.

As part of her commitment to sustainability and safeguarding the environment Frankie was determined to have as much of the Sea Zoo’s energy requirements as possible met by sun power rather than mains electricity.

So she turned to Carbon Zero Renewables and after the initial inspection by managing director Gareth Jones, it took a team of three specialist installers just over a week to fit the 166 high-efficiency panels to the roofs of three of the Sea Zoo’s main buildings.

Laid end to end, the panels would be three times the height of Big Ben and it is estimated that the system, which will produce around 40,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, will save the Sea Zoo at least one-third to half of its annual power bill.

The solar installation is now supplying enough power to meet all of its general electrical requirements, including pumps and filters for the 30 odd tanks containing aquatic exhibits ranging from lesser spotted cat sharks to conga eels and from octopuses to jellyfish.

They also supply the chillers in the roof which maintain the lower temperatures essential for some exhibits during the summer months, as well as supplying the on-site Rockpool Café and gift shop.

The panels are also being used to maintain the constant 25-26oC needed for the indoor holding tank which has now become home to ‘Menai’ the turtle who washed up on the seashore just outside the Sea Zoo at the end of November.

The Sea Zoo has a voluntary marine animal rescue service and is accustomed to call outs for seals, seal pups and occasionally stranded porpoises or dolphins, but the arrival of the Olive Ridley turtle, which is the first of her species ever in Great Britain or Ireland since records began in 1748, was an “overwhelming surprise”, particularly as she was still alive, against all odds.

The turtle has a shell diameter of 62 cms, and is believed to originate from Gabon on the west coast of Africa, where the nearest breeding population of her species is found. It is thought that she has been carried from the shores off the very southern Atlantic coast of Africa, clockwise in the North Atlantic Gyre current, up past the coast of America and then across to British shores in the Gulf Stream, a journey totalling some 15,000 miles.

Frankie is originally from the Midlands and with her university qualifications including a Master’s Degree in marine environmental protection from Bangor University School of Ocean Sciences, she worked as an island conservationist across the globe for over a decade.

Frankie says: “When we found Menai she was in such a bad condition, in a ‘cold shock coma’ that we weren’t expecting her to survive more than a day or two, but we very gradually brought her body temperature back up to the correct level and since then she’s continued to improve, she is feeding well and enjoying plenty of room for swimming around in her own spacious indoor tank.

“Just before Christmas we moved Menai out of her small quarantine ‘intensive care’ tank into a new much larger water tank inside the aquarium which is being heated by the new solar power system.

“We believe the best place for large migratory marine animals, such as sea turtles, is in the wild, and we do not believe in having such species in long term captivity. So once she has regained strength and condition and is sufficiently well recovered, our aim is to fly Menai abroad to a longer term turtle rehabilitation facility, in order to ensure her continued recovery and hopefully see her eventually released back into the wild where she belongs.

“The underlying theme at the Sea Zoo is sustainability and a regard for the environment, so fitting the new PV system was a dream of ours.

“It cost about £60,000 and in the long term will save us at least a third or half of our total energy bill which was working out at between £1,000 and £2,000 every month.

“We were able to get around £13,000 of support towards the installation from the Carbon Trust in grants and loans which was all worked out for us by Carbon Zero.

“As far as I know we are now the only solar-powered aquarium in the UK, which makes us very proud.”

She added: “I’m really pleased to have worked with Carbon Zero, a company which has exactly the right attitude when it comes to long-term sustainability and renewable energy, and uses all the latest techniques to carry out a top class solar installation.

“In future we’ll be looking at working further with Carbon Zero to extend the use of our solar energy even further, by using it to power other systems such as a solar power battery back-up system for power failures and to heat the water we use in our Rockpool Café and for all the customer toilets.”

Carbon Zero boss Gareth Jones said: “For the installation at the Sea Zoo we used high quality German-made panels which are 60 per cent more efficient than the ones which were available for us to fit just six years ago.

“The system is capable of saving the equivalent of around 600,000 tons of carbon, or the equivalent of planting 1,000 trees a year during the course of its lifespan of 30 years. I think all this is really important because of Frankie’s `green’ credentials.

“The solar panels are fitted on three roofs and cover a total area of around 270 square metres. We’ve installed some of them facing south-west and others facing south-east which enables them to absorb a nice spread of power as the sun moves around during the course of the day.

“I agree with Frankie that the Sea Zoo in now very possibly the UK’s only solar-powered aquarium. I certainly don’t know of any others.

“That’s quite fitting for us because we know we’ve already installed the systems for Wales’ first solar-powered abattoir in Corwen and first solar powered vineyard at Penygroes near Caernarfon.

“Being North Wales’ only Carbon Trust approved supplier, we are also able to arrange the necessary grants and loans directly with them to benefit clients like Frankie.”

Gareth also revealed that Carbon Zero has donated three energy-efficient electric heaters – powered by the solar panels – to help foundling turtle Menai fight her way back to health and strength.

“I think it’s amazing that she washed up so close to the Sea Zoo, where she is now getting the expert care she so badly needed. She certainly came to the right place! It’s also good to know that the system we fitted is playing a big part in her rehabilitation,” he said.