With the loss of two sharks recently, as well as the popular Piranhas last year, some may be asking if Napier’s National Aquarium is in need of a refresh. Readers may also recall criticism of the enclosure of the Hawksbill turtle, Terry, last year.
The decision to release the sharks back into the wild due to repetitive injuries to their rostrums (noses) was obviously the right one from an animal welfare point of view.
Aquarium general manager Rachel Haydon said the reason they wouldn’t be replaced was that the sharks were unable to reach full healing in the current Oceanarium. Other species such as kingfish, hapuku, blue mao mao and eagle ray had been procured to the exhibit instead, she said.
Yet the sharks were one of the biggest draw cards. Feeding time was an exciting attraction for children and adults alike, as parents know. And making changes to Terry’s tank or creating a new space for him would only be possible with a major overhaul to the building or the establishment of a new one, Haydon said.
“Work of this scale would realistically need to be considered in the context of the future direction of National Aquarium. In the meanwhile, Terry is safe, healthy and well-looked after in his current setting.”
The aquarium may suffer from its size and lacklustre interior but it’s the best we have for the time being. But is it a good investment for ratepayers and what are its plans for the future?
In the financial year 2021/22 ratepayers have contributed $2.15 million, while total revenue, mostly fees and charges but also retail, cafe sales and venue hire, was $2.1m.
However, the aquarium’s revenue has been on an upward trend, jumping from $2.24m in 2019/20 up to $3.25 in 2020/21, and $2.45 in 2022/23. And in recent years some funding has come from central government as well through various pots of money, including Covid relief funds like the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Programme run by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment ($500,000 between 2020 and 2022). Another chunk came from the Department of Conservation’s Wildlife Relief Fund ($694,000 between 2020 and 2021). This meant that in the financial year 2020/21, ratepayers forked out significantly less, just $700,000.
But continuing grant funding is unpredictable.
Yearly visitor numbers for the last four years have fluctuated between 106,000 and 141,000,
while January 2023 saw the highest ever number of monthly visitors at 28,052, which Haydon said showed the continued appetite for visiting the aquarium.
“The uncertainty of the last few years with the pandemic and recovery from recent extreme weather events has made it hard to understand what ‘typical’ is at present, however tourism is returning with enthusiasm and we plan to cater for our visitors with a fantastic experience,” she said.
The aquarium’s total expenditure, including paying its 43 staff, came to $2.85m in FY 2021/22.
To stay fresh and relevant, Haydon said the aquarium runs quarterly campaigns, which have included Nano Zoo, showcasing species that live in, on and around oceans, and Oceans & I, a month-long event that featured works by more than thirty New Zealand artists sharing their connection to the ocean, many of whom were local to Hawke’s Bay.
It has just launched its most recent campaign, Moon, which runs from June 23 to July 31 and explores the mysteries of the moon through interactive experiences.
“It is important to remember we are also more than just our building. Our ever-growing partnerships with charities, community groups and other organisations allow us to support other conservation activities, educational events and programming in our community.
“Whether it be Matariki events with the Atea-a-Rangi Educational Trust, annual Seaweek programming, beach clean-ups and analysis through Litter Intelligence with Sustainable Coastlines, or supporting school visits after the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle. We are a committed partner to a wide range of meaningful outcomes for our community,” she said.
Capital works were focused on necessary maintenance and upgrades, budgeted at $156,000 for the 2022/23 financial year, until future directions were decided on. The next long-term planning phase, covering 2024 to 2034 would be opportunity to plan for any such changes in direction, Haydon said.
“Patience has been a much-needed virtue to exercise over the past few challenging years, but our motivation to improve and show our visitors a wonderful time has only ever grown.”
For Hayden, the question of whether the aquarium has passed its use-by date can be answered with a simple, ‘no’. It is planning for the future.
“We’re just getting started in creating memorable opportunities for our community to foster a love and connection to the ocean at a time when it needs it the most.”
BayBuzz looks forward to hearing what the future holds for the aquarium when planning begins next year and whether any big changes could be in the cards.
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