Exploris could go tropical in bid to increase visitor numbers

Exploris aquarium in Portaferry, County Down. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Exploris aquarium in Portaferry, County Down. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Northern Ireland’s sole aquarium could turn towards the tropics in a bid to boost its failing visitor numbers.

At the moment, the exhibits at Exploris are almost entirely local creatures, found in Strangford Lough and the Irish Sea.

There are a handful of exceptions, such as the flamboyant lion fish, but Ards Borough Council has hinted that more could be on the cards if the council-funded Portaferry attraction gets the cash injection it is now seeking as part of a plan to revive it.

This business plan includes a proposal for extra exhibits and other improvements using £900,000 in public cash (though the aquarium’s ongoing running costs would reduce under the deal).

Full details of this business plan are not public, but a spokeswoman for Ards council said: “There’s a possibility there’d be new exhibits as part of the business plan so you could have, for example, tropical fish... If you’re talking in terms of more exhibits, the natural consequence would be new species.”

However, David McNarry, UKIP MLA for Strangford, remains sceptical about continuing to subsidise the aquarium, and hit out at the council’s reconsideration of the plan to shut it down.

He said: “I just think there’s an election looming.

“A number of these boys and girls in Ards Borough Council are going to be seeking re-election, and they haven’t had the bottle to see it through.

“They haven’t come out with a reason that says: we were wrong in the first place to want to close this.”

He had also previously criticised the aquarium for housing “dull fish”, and as for the suggestion of new species, he said: “It’s the idea I brought to the council 12 years ago.

“I told them they needed to update, to upgrade, and have tropical fish in it and bring a bit of colour. Here we are 12 years on, and they’re suddenly realising what a good idea it was.”