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Project Shapeshifter business case reveals true state of aquarium, and future possibilities

Published: 6 December 2019

Last Updated: 18 December 2019

Facility Entry

The entrance to the proposed facility

5 December 2019

 Over the past few months Council has been preparing the detailed business case for the redevelopment of our aquarium ‘Project Shapeshifter’.  As the business case evolved, a number of issues were identified relating to the facility’s infrastructure and new best practice guidelines for aquarium design and animal welfare.

 Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise says, “The current aquarium is meeting standards and expectations for animal welfare, but this is requiring careful management and resource to maintain simple standards. Unfortunately unless this is adequately addressed, closure of the National Aquarium will need to be considered.”

 “This information was completely unexpected. While we knew the building was in need of extensive refurbishment, it was the expertise of international aquarium designers EHDD, who are working with us on the project, who drew our attention to the extent of the building’s problems.”

 “I recognise that this is a sad prospect for a much-loved facility, but the welfare and safety of the animals must be our priority. Any closure would be subject to extensive community consultation.

 “Our aquarium has been a much-loved part of the community for over 40 years. It is an iconic Napier landmark, and has not only provided enjoyment to the thousands of visitors who have walked through its doors, but also provided educational opportunities to many school children.

 “But time has caught up with this building, and we now know that the aquarium has approximately three to five years’ operating life left. It would then need investment beyond what has been earmarked in the LTP. Without this redevelopment, closure would likely become inevitable,” says Mayor Wise.

 “This is where the proposed new facility comes into its own – by creating a national centre that will provide a unique experience not found anywhere else in the world, showcasing research, education, environmental stewardship, indigenous knowledge and science.

 “What makes this proposed centre unique is the opportunity to tell the story of Aotearoa New Zealand from mountain top to deep trench. The aim is to promote the best of environmental science with Te Ao Māori, the Māori worldview and other indigenous peoples of the Pacific,” says Mayor Wise.

 The business case is now complete and has been submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Provincial Development Unit. It is the culmination of months of national and international information gathering, including soliciting feedback from environmentalists, educators, researchers, iwi, youth and the public as well as engaging US aquarium architects EHDD and fundraising consultancy AskRIGHT.

 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 current facility represents an outdated form of aquarium, in which exhibits of aquatic wildlife are set up for the public to view. In contrast, modern aquaria 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.

 The proposed new facility would not be solely a Napier City Council-funded facility, and we are investigating transferring ownership to an independent charitable trust that will seek funding support to cover any shortfall in operational expenditure.

 With the intention of it being a facility of national significance, funding would be sought through a mix of channels, ranging from central government through to private funding and sponsorship, from both here and overseas.

 “This cannot be the sole responsibility of Napier ratepayers. There was strong support for the $10.2 million already allocated to this project in the 2018-28 Long Term Plan. However, any further funding will need to be a decision of the community,” says Mayor Wise.

 “We see great benefit for the region, both economically and socially, if this project proceeds.”

 The project is subject to a gateway process, where the Government and Council will consider the detailed business case. If approved by Council and Central Government, further gateways including external funding and public consultation would be required before the project would commence.

 The outcome of the detailed business case should be known in the first half of 2020.

 The detailed business case, along with supporting documents can be found on the project's webpage: 




Topline information on the redevelopment

Building design

The architectural design references the Whai, or Stingray, representing Te Ika-a-Maui, the great fish of Maui we know as the North Island. The collective of buildings represents a Huihuinga Whai, or gathering of stingrays, assembled to form a kainga, or village of Tangaroa, god of the ocean.

 New building of 3,702m2

  • Existing building refurbishment 1,974m2
  • External exhibits 800m2
  • Three major tanks exhibiting sub-tropical, temperate and kelp ecosystems
  • Seven smaller exhibits
  • Repurpose the existing 2002 expansion building for education staff facilities
  • Decommission & demolish the 1973 original building

The visitor experience

The visitor journey follows Maori cosmogony, the creation narrative as described in the Takitimu teachings of Ngati Kahungunu. The journey takes visitors from the dark depths of the ocean, the domain of Tangaroa, ocean god, towards the coastal domain of Hinemoana, ocean goddess, and then emerges into the tidal zone and finally and visitors the travel into the sky domain of Ranginui, the sky-father, in a 4D theatre experience (stage two).

  1. TE RAU O KIWA Pacific Circle: Visitors are welcomed into the Pacific Talking Circle and orientation space
  2. TOHORA Whales: Enter the domain of Tangaroa, god of the sea as whales sing their song of welcome
  3. HONU Turtle: The great Pacific explorer and connector
  4. MANGO Shark: Kia tupato. Be alert as you are surrounded by sharks
  5. HINEMOANA Ocean goddess: Sway within the giant Kelp Forest in the presence of Hinemoa
  6. KORORA Little Blue Penguin: Feeling a Little Blue? Our penguin and tidal pools will cheer you up
  7. WHAI Ray: Get in touch with Te ika-a-Maui, the great fish of Maui
  8. MARAMATAKA Lunar Calendar: Be guided by the Moon, stars and species in the immersive 4D Theatre Experience

The financial numbers

  • NCC commitment: $10.0m
  • Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) / Government Funding: $15.0m to $25.0m (PGF application pending)
  • Revenue generation opportunities: $40.0m
  • Capital cost of the preferred option: $77.5m ($65.6m construction, $7.0m contingency and $4.9m cost escalation during construction). Additional capital costs ofdebt financing $3.4m, funding generation costs $2.4m
  • Visitor numbers: 196k in 2026 rising to 300k 2041
  • Annual Opex shortfalls: >$2.5 million (circa 30% of total expenditure)

Social and economic benefits from the investment

The presence of the new facility in Napier would create social and economic benefits for our city and Hawke’s Bay.

Social benefits

Social benefits can include things like enjoyment, connection to the marine environment, engagement with learning, civic pride, environmental awareness, job satisfaction and opportunities. There is a net contribution of $179 million associated with the social outcomes for visitors, staff and volunteers and further details about this can be read in the detailed business case (pg 79).

Economic benefits

Construction estimated to:

  • Generate $31 million of regional GDP, with a further $50 million of national GDP for a total of $81 million
  • Generate regional employment of 410 FTE, with 535 FTE employed elsewhere for a total of 944 FTE
  • Estimated to boost regional household incomes by $11 million p.a. and national incomes by $28 million p.a.

 Operational estimated to

  • Generate $17 million p.a. of regional GDP, with a further $9 million p.a. of GDP for a total of $26 million
  • Generate regional employment of 152 FTE, with a further 14 FTE employed elsewhere for a national total of 166 FTE
  • Estimated to boost regional household incomes by $7 million p.a.and national household incomes by $8 million p.a.

Colmar Brunton Research

  • 8 in 10 New Zealanders have a direct connection with the ocean every year
  • 92% agreed we should all have the opportunity to experience and learn about our marine environment
  • 46% increase in visits to the new proposed National Aquarium and Ocean centre in the next five years

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