SEA LIFE Aquariums are Britain’s best known marine wildlife attractions, with 13 centres in the UK alone and another 35 worldwide.

The organisation identified the need for a reliable system which would allow users from all SEA LIFE centers to collaborate and share valuable knowledge as well as to easy communicate ideas and issues 24 hours a day.

What we did

HYDRA was first developed as a document sharing and collaboration platform and offers staff means to record, store, track and share valuable business knowledge and data, and is the single largest repository of Aquarium and husbandry information to date.

As the vision of HYDRA grew, it was renamed HYDRA ‘DISCOVER’. The system is designed to store large amounts of data which is searchable and made easily available to staff on any device at any time. The objective to enable everyone within the organisation to collaborate with each other and to work more efficiently – thus saving time and money.

It features a wiki-like knowledgebase, with rich-text articles and structured content such as incident reports, competitor reviews and species information; a discussion forum for cross-company discussion on a range of topics; public and private groups for internal and external project organisation; media galleries; a calendaring system and a powerful search feature built using Apache Solr.

It proved very successful and it was decided to expand the HYDRA system.

Phase Two

Phase Two was developed to include HYDRA ‘TEACH’ – an interpretation system with the core aim to improve public engagement.

HYDRA ‘TEACH’ is an interactive display system designed to provide information to customers in an engaging and informative way through touch screens displaying information about the inhabitants of a display along with images, video and audio, as well as interactive quizzes and games. The touch screens are mounted by the tanks as well as on standalone terminals.

Intergrated into the display screens, as well as on separate terminals, is also the ability to leave visitor feedback for individual tanks and whole displays. The customer feedback information system gives extensive valuable data on metric gathering and reporting.

Behind the scenes, staff can see usage and traffic statistics, as well as review customer feedback. The collated information can be accessed through the HYDRA network dashboard and is able to provide real time information along with historic data. This enables staff to to better understand how the public view their spaces, to follow trends and to see which exhibits are most popular.

HYDRA ‘TEACH’ has been rolled out to SEA LIFE centres in America at Orlando, Florida and Bloomington, Minnesota as well as Weymouth, Blackpool and Great Yarmouth in the UK.

Electricity Zone with interpretation touch screens by the tanks.

Phase Three

Phase Three, HYDRA ‘MANAGE’, is an in development aquarium management system, providing an auditable record of aquarium operations. It features a detailed stock and display management platform with intelligent reporting and warnings. The system tracks all births, rescues, transfers, and mortalities, and is providing up to date reports on stock numbers across all sites. It has a feature-rich animal health system providing both time-critical information and collaboration for aquarists and veterinary staff as well as a historic record of issues and treatments; daily water chemistry records with configurable constraints to prompt action to remedy.

HYDRA ‘MANAGE’ is in development.

Our Approach and technologies used

Based on our broad experience with Drupal, we chose it to develop HYDRA on because we knew it to be both flexible and scalable, well-suited to our approach of iterative product development and decoupled architecture. Building software for an organisation of this size was both extremely challenging and rewarding.

HYDRA was developed in different phases and with the addition of HYDRA ‘TEACH’, the interactive interpretation system, we decided to take a slightly different approach.

Drupal is a comprehensive business application platform and is extensible enough to incorporate any feature you might need in a single site. However, to achieve our goals for reliability and scalability, we decided to use multiple sites to support the different areas of HYDRA.

As a result we opted to use the Laravel framework as the basis for HYDRA ‘TEACH’, allowing us to rapidly develop and deploy a completely bespoke system that can integrate with the core HYDRA platform.

The challenge was to design an interface which was user friendly and intuitive, robustly built to handle high levels of use, while remaining engaging  and easy to use, to a wide demographic range of visitors.

This is the Alt tet
The interface needed to be user friendly, engaging and easy to use to a broad demographic range of visitors.

Client Feedback

“With 47 SEA LIFE centers across the world, housing hundreds of thousands of creatures, the amount of information we have to process can be overwhelming. The HYDRA system, developed by Freeway Projects, enables us to marshall all of that important knowledge and information into one system making it available globally in real time. Freeway Projects have provided a cost effective, robust solution on time and to a world class standard. From design to implementation, support and future proofing, SEA LIFE could not have asked for more.”


Rob Wick, Regional Curator for UK and Ireland, Weymouth SEA LIFE Park.


To see the touch screens in action, check out this YouTube video from Weymouth Sealife Adventure Park:

 Other work for SEA LIFE

Sea Life Rockpool Graphic Display
Sea Life Rockpool Graphic Display.


Freeway was commissioned to design wall illustrations and display graphics for the “New Ideas Zone” exhibition, which features the three displays; Glow, Electricity and Rockpool.
Read more about the design work here.

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HYDRA is Document Sharing and Collaboration system for SEA LIFE. The HYDRA system has since been expanded to include an interactive interpretation system with the core aim to improve public engagement. Building software for an organisation of this size was both extremely challenging and rewarding!

  • Client:Weymouth SEA LIFE Adventure Park
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  • Skills:
    • Drupal
    • graphic design
    • Laravel
    • web development
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