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Aquarium Expansion ProjectTe kaupapa whakawhānui i Te Whare Tangaroa o Aotearoa

A detailed business case for a redefined National Aquarium will be presented to central government towards the end of 2019. This will identify the costs and the benefits. If all goes well, Napier could have a new aquarium sometime around 2025.


What is Project Shapeshifter?

The proposed expansion of the aquarium is known as Project Shapeshifter: Redefining our National Aquarium. This name is emblematic of Māui – the ‘shapeshifter’ and great East Polynesian ancestor-explorer of the Pacific Ocean. Our challenge is to be bold and adventurous like Māui – to be a shapeshifter and game-changer.

Our vision is to create an iconic destination that all New Zealanders will be proud of. A memorable experience that centres Aotearoa New Zealand as the environmental champion for Papatūānuku planet earth and her oceans.

Redefining our National Aquarium gives us a unique opportunity to tell New Zealand’s freshwater and marine story through themes of sustainable utilisation and conservation. Located in the heart of Te Matau-a-Māui Hawkes Bay, the National Aquarium is best positioned to tell the story of Aotearoa New Zealand from mountain top to deep trench, promoting the best of environmental science with leading indigenous knowledge systems and Te Ao Māori, the Māori worldview.

How will we fund it?

We are looking for new and innovative ways to externally fund the construction and ongoing operational costs of the aquarium. We are mindful that the cost cannot fall solely on Napier ratepayers. The business case will seek to position the aquarium as an attraction of truly national significance, in much the same way as Te Papa is.  As such, it will be funded through a mix of channels – ranging from central government through to private funding from various channels, both here and overseas.

Building the business case 

Project Shapeshifter will attempt to create a compelling movement as the business case for change is developed. To better understand how we may redefine our National Aquarium, we need to ensure there is national input - and hopefully support - for what will eventuate. Project Shapeshifter is undertaking an extensive engagement programme across Aotearoa New Zealand to build momentum on our vision. Workshops have been held with Māori leaders, environmental experts, the tourism industry and research and education providers. These workshops brought together diverse thinkers who contributed to the development of the business case and helped to redefine what could be on offer. You can read a summary of their ideas here.

Our aquarium has the potential to be a national centre showcasing research, education, environmental stewardship, indigenous knowledge and science. This will provide a unique experience that would not be found anywhere else in the world. A more formal consultation process with Napier residents will be undertaken in 2020 if the business case is approved by central government.

The detailed business case for a redefined National Aquarium will be presented to the Government in late 2019. We are excited by this project and the opportunities it presents to the entire region.


What is the background?

In 2018, Napier City Council submitted an Indicative Business Case to the Government for a redefined National Aquarium of New Zealand. There was strong support given for this by ratepayers in the Long Term Plan 2018-2028 consultation, with an allocated project budget of $10.2M. Following the submission of the Indicative Business Case to the Government, NCC received funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund to complete a Detailed Business Case for a new expanded aquarium. This will be presented to the Government in late 2019.

Frequently Asked Questions

The expansion of the aquarium is known as Project Shapeshifter. Central government has asked us to prepare a business case for redefining the National Aquarium of New Zealand, which is located in Napier. This involves creating something exciting and different for New Zealand. The vision is to have a national centre of excellence which showcases education, conservation, research, environmental kaitiakitanga (guardianship), indigenous knowledge and science. Key partners in the project include Air New Zealand, University of Waikato, Hawke’s Bay Tourism, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, and local iwi.

We have received funding from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund to prepare a detailed business case for a new redefined National Aquarium of New Zealand. This will be submitted in late 2019. If the business case is successful and we manage to find funding from other sources, construction will likely begin from 2022-2024, and the new aquarium may open in 2025.

The project cost will be determined through the final detailed business case. Napier City Council has put aside $10.2 million in the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan. The remainder of the construction and ongoing operational costs will be sought from a mix of sources – including central government funding, grants, private funding, and sponsorship. Until the full business case is developed, we won’t know the exact total cost of the project.  

We will have to scale back the project or just do a refurbishment of the current aquarium.

Admission charges may increase once the new aquarium opens but we intend to look into a locals' entry fee. People can also join the Friends of the Aquarium by paying an annual membership. From 1 July 2019 the Friends of the Aquarium annual fee will be $65 per adult, $95 for an adult and one child, $150 for two adults and up to two children, and $25 per extra child, per year. Council reviews fees and charges every year for all facilities.

The National Aquarium of New Zealand is a member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia (ZAA). As a member, the aquarium is required to undergo accreditation where we must clearly demonstrate how we meet their standards of, and our commitment to, positive animal welfare. The aquarium expansion is an opportunity to continue to show visitors ways that we can all care for the environment and its inhabitants. The aquarium will continue to have a range of animals to visit, but there will be greater use of digital technologies for visitors to experience. This means visitors will have an opportunity for close up experiences with species that they may never otherwise see.

What happens to the animals will depend on where the new facility is constructed.  If animals need to be moved off-site, some will go to other local facilities or ZAA accredited members to be temporarily looked after until the new building is completed. Others, such as native fish species like kahawai, can be released back into the wild.

An aquarium has been in Napier since 1957 when local fish-keeping enthusiasts gathered together to use space in the lower level of War Memorial Hall to display their fish. The Napier Aquarium was expanded in the early 2000s and opened as the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2002. Hawke’s Bay is known by its Māori name of Te Matau-a-Māui The Fish Hook of Māui, which carries significant meaning for the National Aquarium. Being associated with Te Matau-a-Māui supports the National Aquarium being in Napier, drawing on a 1,000 year legacy of navigation, voyage and migratory movement of species.

Aquariums are often located on coastlines so they can connect with the sea. The water from the ocean is also vital for the life support systems needed by the animals. The current aquarium site is 5.5m above sea level.

The main level of the current aquarium is 5.5 metres above sea level.  With the expected rise in sea levels in the coming decades due to climate change, the current aquarium site is at risk of flooding during 100-year flooding events.

To account for this, the design will include strategies to minimize damage and protect the aquarium’s collection. Incorporating these design strategies means the aquarium can be built to survive future storm surge events with minimal damage.  

The current 100-year flood level along Napier’s coast is 5.7 metres above sea level. Research suggests that sea levels will rise 0.6 metres in the next 50 years, bringing a 100-year flood event to 6.3 metres. The main floor of the new aquarium would be 7.3 metres above current sea level – 1 metre above the 100-year flood level adjusted for sea level rise.

To minimise damage, mechanical, electrical and telecommunication rooms and associated equipment would be located on the upper floor or the building’s roof to avoid flooding.

The building will be designed to withstand high wind speeds during storms. In general, aquariums are very robust buildings due to the stress load requirements of the wet exhibits.

A detailed seismic assessment has been commissioned and the findings will be incorporated in the project. Most buildings in close proximity to the sea would be challenged by a significant tsunami. The aquarium has animal rescue procedures in place for natural hazard events.

Napier residents gave strong support for the National Aquarium expansion during the Long Term Plan 2018-2028 consultation. A more formal consultation process with Napier residents will be undertaken in 2020 if the business case is approved by central government.

Anyone is able to join the Friends of the Aquarium, which will still continue if the expansion goes ahead. Friends can visit every day the aquarium is open. They also receive special invites to events and new exhibit openings. From 1 July 2019 the Friends annual fee will be $65 per adult, $95 for an
adult and one child, $150 for two adults and up to two children, and $25 per extra child, per year.

We are looking at the possibility of setting up a charitable trust for the aquarium and will investigate this in the business case.



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