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Project Shapeshifter Workshops Feedback

A summary of the ideas presented at the workshops held to contribute to the detailed business case for Project Shapeshifter.

Project Shapeshifter - feedback from workshops

Workshops and individual meetings were held in July and August 2019 with leaders from the environmental community, education providers, researchers, Māori, the tourism industry and youth (12-24 year olds). These brought together diverse thinkers to contribute to redefining what could be in a new aquarium. Their ideas fed into the business case, which was presented to central government in late 2019.

We want to share with you a summary of the themes and ideas that came from the workshop participants.

 Conservation and environmental themes:

  • It must be honest – about the state of the planet, habitats and ecosystems.
  • It must truly represent the actual environmental needs of animals.
  • There must be strong conservation action taken by aquarium staff onsite, the organisation as a whole, and our community (with aquarium support).
  • The need for it to have the wow factor to not only bring in numbers but initiate behavioural change.
  • It could be a watchdog for aquatic ecosystems.
  • It must be an eco-building. The whole process must be environmentally friendly.
  • It needs to be a rescue and rehabilitation centre – save animals and teach conservation.

 Educational themes:

  • Galleries, libraries, aquariums, museums and zoos are all spaces for learning. It’s time to start thinking beyond schools as the centre of education.
  • Accessibility is key for low income communities and schools so that tamariki can also engage in new learning and education.
  • Design all spaces with learning and education in mind. 
  • Experiential learning opportunities will be a point of difference and deliver value within the education system – and appeal to wider audiences.
  • Play a role in vocational education and training for maritime related employment.

 Research themes:

  • Strong agreement on the role that a national facility/aquarium could play in being a ‘hub’ to support smaller, dispersed marine conservation and citizen science projects nationally.
  • Be a centre of excellence bringing in national and international expertise for particular areas e.g. wetlands, deep sea exploration and mapping, migratory birds and fish.


  • Present aquatic life through appropriately introducing and explaining Te Ao Māori.
  • Throughout the exhibits, there needs to be a clear relationship of scientific findings and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge systems).
  • Present iwi stories that allow for the variances between iwi. Bring different stories together, understand the differences and gain permission from iwi.
  • Present our place in the Pacific and other Pacific nations.

 Tourism themes:

  • A new National Aquarium would be beneficial to the New Zealand tourism sector, particularly the domestic market.
  • The international market demand for marine species such as whales, dolphins, penguins and seals was raised as to how this might link or compete with experiences like Whale Watch Kaikoura.
  • There is strong perspective that people are not seeking tamed iconic marine species, their preference is to engage in the natural environment.
  • The new aquarium should stand at same level nationally as Te Papa i.e. under an Act of Parliament.
  • Exhibits where visitors can safely interact with fish/animals so that people can connect with them rather than just looking at them.
  • Exciting use of technology - virtual reality voyaging on a waka experience (relying on the stars to navigate); or a tsunami experience or scuba diving experience.


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