Children perform at the opening ceremony of the Muroto Haiko Suizokukan aquarium in Muroto, Kochi Prefecture. They are excited to see the marine turtles swimming in a former pool for children on April 26. (Video taken by Masatoshi Kasahara)

MUROTO, Kochi Prefecture--It's back to the classroom at a closed elementary school here, but instead of students, schools of fish and sea turtles caught in the surrounding ocean are now swimming energetically in tanks on display.

Muroto Haiko Suizokukan (Muroto abolished school aquarium) opened April 26 with about 300 local residents in attendance to celebrate the transformation of their former alma mater, which closed 12 years ago.

It is extremely rare for an abandoned school building to be converted into an aquarium nationwide. Muroto Haiko Suizokukan makes the best use of the school's blackboards and desks to display specimens and items of the city's fisheries industry.

During the opening ceremony, 24 children who attend the Muroto Hoikuen child-care center sang nursery rhymes and broke a big decorated paper ball as a ritual.

“I would like the aquarium to become a place where children’s lively voices resonate and convey the charms of Muroto (elsewhere),” said Muroto Mayor Kenji Komatsu.

Aquariums in various sizes have been installed in the three-story ferroconcrete building. Two 3-meter-diameter tanks and even a 3.5-meter-diameter tank are among them.

In those tanks, about 1,000 marine creatures of around 50 species are kept including yellowtails, sharks, green turtles, loggerhead turtles, giant crabs and porcupine fish.

The highlight among the lineup is a black turtle, whose scientific name is Chelonia agassizii, which is a rare species seen around Japan and usually inhabits the east Pacific Ocean region. The turtle, which can be seen swimming in a huge water tank, was caught in a fixed fishing net off the coast of the city on March 19.

Other varieties of about 20 marine turtles were bathing in a leisurely fashion in the 25-meter-long swimming pool that had been used by pupils up until a dozen years ago. Muroto Hoikuen’s children shouted for joy in seeing the creatures.

Soichiro Sakai, 5, was stunned to see one of the turtles poking his head out of the water, saying, “He is cute.”

The former public Shiina elementary school, closed in 2006, was remodeled and given a second life as an aquarium at a cost of 500 million yen ($4.57 million). The municipal government intends to make the facility a center of sightseeing and regional activities.

The Sea Turtle Association of Japan, which is headquartered in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, was designated as the manager of the aquarium and runs the facility.

When rare Pacific Ocean marine creatures were caught in the offshore areas from Muroto, many were transported to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan in Osaka city and exhibited there. But from now, they will also be taken to and put on display at Muroto Haiko Suizokukan.

“We would like to make this facility where children’s smiles and cheers are echoed once more," said Motoki Wakatsuki, 43, head of the aquarium. "We will also welcome students on school trips.”

The facility is planning events for university students and vocational school students during the summer holidays. It also is considering conducting research on captured marine turtles by placing tracking devices on them and releasing them back into the Pacific Ocean to learn about their migratory behavior and biology.

The aquarium is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April through September, and closes at 5 p.m. from October through March. Admission is 600 yen for high school students or older, and 300 yen for junior high school students and younger.