The Ningaloo Aquarium formally opened its doors last Friday and is another string in Exmouth’s tourism bow. The opening ends a history of difficulties that plagued the project for the past couple of years.
The million dollar Ningaloo Aquarium expected to boost tourism numbers in the region finally opened last week, almost 18 months behind schedule.
The aquarium is referred to as the “jewel in the crown” of the $32 million Discovery Centre and its delay was due to perceived mismanagement of the project by the previous council.
Shire president Matthew Niikkula said the new council decided it still wanted the aquarium to be realised to its full potential.
“It’s a fantastic drawcard for tourists,we had 1750 people through in August alone and some of their exit statements were really encouraging” he said.
“It takes about three hours to go through the whole Discovery Centre and aquarium, so it really adds a reason for tourists to stay in Exmouth for a whole extra day.”
The Ningaloo complex had its formal opening in December last year but the aquarium was not included because various issues had plagued the project from its inception.
The aquarium sat empty for months because of concerns from Shire Commissioner Ian Fletcher that it was not safe to be filled with water, let alone to hold marine life. The concerns were raised after a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation led to the sacking of Shire chief executive Bill Price and strategic projects officer Andrew Forte.
It is alleged they awarded a $1.1 million contract to build the centre’s aquarium without proper authorisation from the council or calling for tenders. Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan attended the official opening last Friday and said it had taken a while to resolve the issues.
“There is no question that this was a troubled project -— when we came to government, tenants had pulled out from the facility and the aquarium was unusable,” she said.
“The new council took a very proactive approach to the technical problems with the aquarium and resolved that issue.”
However, Nationals WA Member for North West Central Vince Catania argued there was never anything physically wrong with the aquarium or Discovery Centre.
“The aquarium was always usable, it was used as a political tool by the Labor Government to discredit Royalties for Regions and its investment in Exmouth,” Mr Catania said.
Shire president Matthew Niikkula, Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan, Gascoyne Development Commission chairman Andrew Munro and Shire chief executive Cameron Woods.