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Project Shapeshifter

Project Shapeshifter is the name of the National Aquarium of New Zealand redevelopment proposal. The redevelopment would build a new, nationally significant National Aquarium and Oceans Centre.

Project Shapeshifter

Please note that this project is no longer going ahead. Up to date information on the future of the National Aquarium of New Zealand is available here.

Project Shapeshifter is the name of the National Aquarium of New Zealand redevelopment proposal. We submitted the project business case to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in December 2019.

The redevelopment would build a new, nationally significant National Aquarium and Oceans Centre. Such a facility would raise awareness of environmental issues and encourage visitors to support the conservation of species and ecosystems.

The detailed business case, put together by Terra Moana, to redefine the National Aquarium of New Zealand is now complete and has been submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). This is the culmination of several months of national and international information gathering, including getting feedback from environmentalists, educators, researchers, iwi, youth and the general public as well as engaging US aquarium architects EHDD and fundraising consultancy AskRIGHT.

Click here for the Detailed Business Case, architect’s concept designs, Colmar Brunton survey and other reports.

Project Shapeshifter is not just an expansion of the current aquarium. The proposal is to build a new, nationally significant National Aquarium and Oceans Centre. The project’s vision is creating a place where land and sea are joined, where the stories of the ocean are told by hapū, conservationists, scientists, volunteers, and most importantly by the species that make the ocean their home.

The facility will seek to inform and raise awareness of environmental issues and empower visitors to actively support the conservation of species and ecosystems through smaller actions or larger commitments.

If the business case is approved by MBIE, a revenue generation strategy will be created that will seek philanthropic donations, sponsorship opportunities and grants from Lotteries, charitable trusts and foundations, and other government sources, to help offset project costs. 

Project Shapeshifter is subject to a gateway process, where the Government is currently considering the submitted detailed business case. If approved by Central Government, further gateways including external funding and public consultation, would be required before the project would commence. We anticipate being advised on the outcome of the detailed business case submission in the first half of 2020.

 Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Central government has asked us to prepare a business case for redefining the National Aquarium of New Zealand, which is located in Napier. Key partners in the project include Air New Zealand, University of Waikato, Hawke’s Bay Tourism, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, and local iwi.

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.

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.

The total capital cost of the preferred option is $77.5m, which includes $65.6m of construction costs, $7.0m in contingency and $4.9m associated with cost escalation during the construction period. Real fit-out replacement costs equal $1.5m every five years and real exhibition refurbishment costs equal $3.2m every 10 years. revenue in the first full year of operations of $6.6m (approx. 196,000 visitors) against operating costs of $9.6m (inflation of 2.8% p.a.). Further details are in the business case (pg 83).

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 seeks 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.

No, as other projects have their own budgets allocated as part of the Long Term Plan. Project Shapeshifter does not impact on any other work Council is undertaking.

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.

The community will be able to feed in ideas and share their thoughts on what they might like to see (including programmes and activities). Napier residents, our current Friends of the Aquarium members, youth, school audiences and a range of community groups will be key to this process.

The first phase of the new project is planned to be just north of the existing site, to be closer to the central city. The original 1970s building will need to be demolished, and the 2002-built extension will be re-purposed as an education centre and administrative offices for the new facility.

The closure of the National Aquarium will need to be considered. A scaled-back refurbishment is not an option because the ongoing operating budget required for the Aquarium to meet and maintain minimum standards for animal welfare is not feasible.

When considering modern animal welfare standards, the building itself is no longer fit for purpose. For example, there is limited staff accessibility to maintain tanks and exhibits and limited space for quarantine and vet care facilities. This makes maintaining the animal's welfare challenging and it is not financially sustainable in the long term.

Furthermore, when considering the purpose of modern aquaria - which is to educate and inspire positive behavioural change - the layout of the existing building provides for an outdated form of aquarium, where animals are exhibited for people's entertainment.

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.

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.

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. Read about the history of Napier's Aquarium from 1957 to 2017.

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.

Admission charges are likely to increase to $39 per adult and $21 per child, in line with admission for Kely Tarlton's, but there will be much more to see and do. There is a significant discount planned for Hawke's Bay residents.

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.

Anyone is able to join the Friends of the Aquarium, which will still continue if the expansion goes ahead. We welcome our community to feed in their ideas of what they might like from membership in future too.

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 has been investigated in the business case (page 74).

The first phase of the new project will be just north of the existing site, meaning the current facility can remain open until the new one is ready. Consideration has been made for the noise and vibrations from construction in order to ensure there is no impact on the animals in the current aquarium.

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.

We will be focusing on animals that are native to New Zealand and the Pacific, in a range of large scale, immersive exhibits. We will still have our Little Penguins. But the main focus of the new facility will be to encourage connection to wildlife and nature, educate and inspire positive behavioural change, rather than focusing on exhibiting animals set up for people's entertainment. Real life issues such as climate change and plastics in our oceans will be addressed. Other animals, not suitable to be held in captivity, will be present digitally/virtually.

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 was submitted in December 2019. If the business case is successful and we manage to find funding from other sources, construction will likely begin in 2022 and the new aquarium may open in late 2025.


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