Belfast Telegraph

Crunch time for Exploris as globe backs its future

By Dave Whelan

A global campaign to save the Portaferry-based aquarium Exploris has taken its appeal to Stormont.

A petition, containing tens of thousands of signatures was presented by members of the Save Exploris Aquarium yesterday evening, before MLAs were due to debate the controversial closure.

The campaign has rocketed in support since it was announced that Ards Borough Council had voted to close the facility that costs the ratepayer around £600,000 a year.

In September, the council voted unanimously to defer the closure so that alternative funding could be sought, but that period of grace will run out on November 20 and there is still no agreement.

Since its launch the campaign to save Exploris has become a social media sensation with mass local support being backed by messages and pictures from across the globe – with support coming from as far away as Dubai, Afghanistan and Japan.

Last week members of Stormont's enterprise committee visited the centre to meet with Portaferry Regeneration Group, Friends of Exploris, NIPSA and Ards Borough Council.

Afterwards, the Alliance Party announced that it would table a motion urging all parties to recognise the aquarium's importance to Portaferry and beyond.

On Monday it was announced that the UUP would table an amendment to the motion calling for regional funding to be announced.

North Down Green MLA Steven Agnew said the Green Party would back the Assembly motion.

He said: "Exploris should be financially supported by the Executive as its contribution to maintaining precious local biodiversity cannot be solely calculated in financial terms.

"Its positive impact on the local economy of the area is also significant as it is an attraction to visitors and tourists who visit the centre and then subsequently spend money in other local businesses.

"Therefore, there are quite a number of jobs beyond those of the staff employed in Exploris dependent on the continued survival of the centre."

Mr Agnew added: "Tens of thousands of people have given their online support to the Save Exploris campaign with the E-petition attracting thousands of signatures.

"Politicians must now sit up and take note and work together to find the money to save this important asset to Northern Ireland."

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