The New Zealand National Ocean Centre [Case Study]

The New Zealand National Ocean Centre [Case Study]

Image Source: Napier City Council website

The National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napieopened in 1957starting with a large fish tank in the basement of Napier’s Memorial Hall. In 1976, the Aquarium moved to its current location on Marine Parade. 

The Situation 

Image Source: The National Aquarium of New Zealand website

The National Aquarium of New Zealand finds itself at a crossroads. In one direction exists an opportunity to redefine the venerable institution through investment, renovation, and expansion a nearly complete makeover impacting the infrastructure, reach, and role the Aquarium plays in New Zealand and beyond. The alternate direction follows a path that ultimately concludes with the Aquarium shutting its doors forever. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. 

The Problem 

Image Source: The National Aquarium of New Zealand website

The Aquarium was last upgraded in 2002 with an $8 million extension and renovation, to include adding a 1.5 million litre Oceanarium and tunnel. In 2011, an accommodation was made to house penguins displaced by the closure of nearby Marineland. 

The Aquarium is greatly loved by many locals and many visitors to Napier, but it is severely restricted in what it can offer by the current building capacity and is no longer fit for purpose. Without significant expansion of capacity, growth in programmes and research partnerships, the facility and its relevance to Aotearoa and beyond will be diminished.  

Modern standards for the care and treatment of animals dictate increasing staff accessibility to maintain tanks, exhibits, and added space for quarantine and veterinary facilities, which renders maintaining the animal’s long-term welfare financially unsustainable in the existing facility. 

Modern aquaria are no longer about dolphins jumping through rings of fire and the like; today, their purpose tilts towards education, research, and positive behavioural change. The layout of the existing Napier facility represents an outdated form of aquarium where animals are exhibited for people’s entertainment. 

The Solution 

Enter Project Shapeshifter: Redefining our National Aquarium

A 2019 survey of New Zealanders by Colmar Brunton indicated broad support for a redeveloped aquarium  renamed the New Zealand National Ocean Centre  and also revealed that, overall, Kiwis: 

Have a strong relationship with the marine environment and deep love for the ocean  8 in 10 have direct connection to the ocean each year 

Think New Zealanders should have the opportunity to experience and learn about the marine environment 

Believe care for the ocean and marine environment should be balanced with the health and growth of the economy 

Feel a redeveloped National Aquarium and Ocean Centre must demonstrate value for money 

Think the cultural story of Māori and Pacific peoples should be a strong identifier for the Centre promoting education and conservation 

The survey also indicated a new National Ocean Centre would see a 46% increase in visits in the next five years.  

Image Source: Napier City Council website

With qualified support suggested by the survey, the Napier City Council commissioned internationally renowned EHDD Architecture to design a National Ocean Centre for New Zealand unique to Aotearoa and inspired by the nation’s rich cultural history and the important role the ocean and marine environment has played and must play as we meet the challenges of climate change and the evolution of our environment.  

The design delivered by EHDD – whose portfolio includes the much-celebrated Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California – offers design concepts that incorporate the Napier foreshore below sea level and above with accommodations for storm surge and rising sea levels.  

The proposed Centre will give visitors an experience available nowhere else in the world  providing for environmental stewardship, indigenous knowledge, science, education and research, as well as exciting exhibits & activities for tourists 

EHDD delivered a detailed concept piece providing the estimated capital expenditure needed for the National Ocean Centre, which were incorporated into a detailed business case for the project prepared by New Zealand sustainability consultancy Terra Moana.  

The proposed National Ocean Centre will cost around NZ$77million to build, and the Napier Council has submitted an application for between $15m-$35m to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Provincial Growth Fund. Additional funding is expected to come from a $40 million fundraising campaign conceived and implemented by the team at AskRIGHT. The fundraising plan is informed by the findings of a feasibility study performed by AskRIGHT and recommends two successive campaigns of NZ$20million each. 

An MBIE decision on the application is expected in the first half of 2020. Approval could allow the Napier Council to put plans for the New Zealand National Ocean Centre into motion. 

Read more about the aquarium on The National Aquarium of New Zealand website and learn more about the project on the Napier City Council website.

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