Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Exploris: Ards Borough Council backs plan to save Northern Ireland's only aquarium

One of the seals at Exploris aquarium in Portaferry
One of the seals at Exploris aquarium in Portaferry
Children protest against the planned closure of Exploris aquarium
Scores of Exploris supporters gather outside Ards Borough Council offices ahead of a decision on whether to shut Northern Ireland's only aquarium. September 25 2013.
Save Exploris campaigners: Xesus Varela, Xcalac, Mexico. Image source: Twitter
Save Exploris campaigners: Image source: Twitter
Save Exploris campaigners: Natasha Hull, Townsville, Australia. Image source: Twitter
Save Exploris campaign: Shir Bar, Tel Aviv
Save Exploris campaign: Vanessa Blot, Humboldt
Save Exploris campaign: Carole Donaldson, Afghanistan
Save Exploris campaign: Charlotte Julia Stone, Byron Bay

The only aquarium in Northern Ireland is a step closer to safety after Ards Borough Council last night ratified a business plan aimed at sustaining its future.

It is understood the business plan recommends seasonal opening, with running costs reduced from £500,000 to £200,000.

If approved the facility would close for six months from October.

The decision means that the plan to save Exploris at Portaferry can now go before Stormont for financial support. Councillors also agreed to extend the stay of execution on the aquarium for a third time. A campaign to keep the aquarium open has already received a boost after the Department of the Environment agreed to commit £120,000 a year to maintain the seal sanctuary and to make a one-off payment of £45,000 to upgrade the facility.

In 2013 Ards Borough Council voted to close the popular tourist attraction, saying that it could no longer sustain the £1m in operational costs.

Protesters from the Friends of Exploris group gathered outside the meeting to show their concerns.

Speaking after the meeting, Portaferry councillor Joe Boyle said: "We need to be proactive. Tonight I proposed an amendment that we write to each of the ministers and request funding.

"We must remember that there are staff in the middle of this who can't keep being strung along.

"The council has extended the stay of execution for a month. Let's hope that those in the Executive can deliver a clear and concise solution." Strangford MP Jim Shannon said he was optimistic, adding: "The future is looking brighter for Exploris if the ministers are able to deliver what has been suggested, and it is clear that the facility cannot solely be the burden of Ards Borough Council but must have input from the Assembly and those around it."

Save Exploris: Twitter users snap as campaign to save Northern Ireland's only aquarium goes global 

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