Campaigner gives seal of approval to revamped aquarium

Crowds queue to get into the newly revamped Exploris in Portaferry
Crowds queue to get into the newly revamped Exploris in Portaferry

A campaigner who had pressed for an under-threat aquarium to be saved has said she is “thrilled” at the revamp which it has undergone.

Exploris, based in the Strangford Lough village of Portaferry, re-opened to the public on Monday after a long-running refurbishment programme.

Northern Ireland's only aquarium had been closed for almost two years

Northern Ireland's only aquarium had been closed for almost two years

The aquarium had been run by the former Ards Borough Council, but had struggled financially and was threatened with closure.

It was closed in 2014 but has now been reopened under the management of Crumlin Road Gaol Ltd – the firm behind the old prison in north-west Belfast. which now operates as a tourist attraction.

Elaine Roddy, acting chairwoman of Friends of Exploris, which has campaigned for years for the attraction to be kept open, yesterday told the News Letter: “I thought it was fab. Very child-friendly, lots of new species and added interest.”

Former MLA for the area, UKIP’s David McNarry, had suggested the attraction was not well-placed – due to its location in the small Ards peninsula village – adding that it was full of “dull fish” rather than exotic exhibits which could draw in vititors.

Scarlet and Max Hutchinson inspect a sea urchin in the newly revamped Exploris

Scarlet and Max Hutchinson inspect a sea urchin in the newly revamped Exploris

Mrs Roddy said that among the new creatures now added are otters and a crocodile.

Meanwhile, the seal sanctuary which had operated there before still remains in place.

She said she was “thrilled” with the new look.

“I always did think it would open again,” she said. “It made no sense to me to close it.”

Alliance Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said: “I hope this reopening brings much needed tourist income back for businesses and the Strangford area, as it will become a vital part of the local economy again.”

Meanwhile Alison Millar, general secretary of the NIPSA trade union, said the re-opening came after the union and others had “tirelessly” fought for it to remain, dubbing it a “marvellous public facility”.