Ministers asked to unite in plan to save Exploris aquarium
The Environment Minister has said his department would not be able to foot the bill on its own to keep Northern Ireland's only aquarium open.
The plight of Exploris is to come under the spotlight at today's meeting of the Stormont Executive where Minister Mark H Durkan will be calling on his Executive colleagues to draw up a cross-departmental plan to save the popular aquarium.
The minister said he will be looking to the ministers for enterprise, eduction, culture and finance to play their part in a cross-departmental rescue.
According to Friends of Exploris, which is battling to save the popular aquarium from closure, central government intervention is now all that can prevent the council from pulling down the shutters on the facility.
Last week, Ards councillors voted for a two-month deferment of the closure of the facility to allow alternatives to be explored.
The director of Queen's University Marine Laboratory, Dr Julia Sigwart, who lives in Portaferry, said Exploris is the perfect place to showcase the diversity of marine life in Strangford Lough, one of the most important marine nature sites in Europe.
"Exploris is the best place to showcase the exceptionally diverse marine life of Strangford Lough, which has just become Northern Ireland's first Marine Conservation Zone," she said.
Friends of Exploris said the aquarium should highlight Northern Ireland's contribution to marine renewable energy research and development with SeaGen and other experimental sea energy devices as well as EU funded research on seaweed biofuels in Strangford Lough.
There is nothing on site to tell the story of Northern Ireland's role in this globally important work, the group said.
"Exploris is the best possible place to showcase the exceptionally diverse marine life of Strangford Lough, which has just become Northern Ireland's first Marine Conservation Zone and is one of the most important marine nature sites in Europe.
"Unlike most aquaria, Exploris draws water directly from the lough, meaning the displays are as close as possible to the natural environment.
"The infrastructure is already in place, and with some investment the aquarium and its seal sanctuary are the perfect place for everyone to engage with the lough and learn why it is so important."
- Dr Julia Sigwart of the Queen's University Marine Laboratory