Time to re-open Exploris aquarium in Portaferry

Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry was closed in November last year
Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry was closed in November last year

Friends of Exploris Trust is dismayed that work has not yet started on the refurbishment of Exploris, the main tourist destination in the Upper Ards, though funding has been in place for nearly a year.

Because of inaction £214k has been lost of the original £914k funding awarded by the Department of the Environment.

Exploris was closed in November 2014, before the procurement process had started, and the search for a contractor stalled in January 2015.

If the procurement process started again tomorrow there would still be no contractors on site before the autumn.

The remaining allocated funds – £700k – should be spent within this financial year, but without action this funding could also be lost.

And right now this prolonged closure, during the tourist season, is having a significant negative impact on businesses and other tourist attractions in the Ards and elsewhere.

Ards Borough Council invested significantly in an excellent business case.

The funding was agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and yet it may well disappear completely due to protracted negotiations between local and central government.

According to the council’s own findings, effective marketing for Exploris attracted up to 100,000 visitors annually generating up to £3million of additional income to the surrounding area.

People in Portaferry, Northern Ireland and worldwide campaigned to keep this unique aquarium and seal sanctuary open.

Locals and potential visitors to Exploris are baffled by the closure and lack of progress.

One solution is to re-open Exploris now, to capitalise on the summer tourist season, and roll out a programme of improvements starting immediately.

As Jade Berman, Living Seas manager with Ulster Wildlife, has said: “The extended closure of Exploris is a real shame not only to the local economy, but also to visitors from near and far who will not get an opportunity this summer to see up close some of the amazing marine life that can be found in our local seas. It would be wonderful if a way could be found to open it up over the summer months while the tendering process for the renovations is sorted before any more money availability expires.”

Friends of Exploris Trust