Rethink Exploris aquarium closure plan
Tourism is a sector with great growth potential in Northern Ireland.
It is a province blessed with beautiful scenery and a greatly improved list of high-class attractions. Yet that list is not sufficiently large to enable it to close a facility like the Exploris aquarium in Portaferry without feeling the impact.
Of course it is the town itself which would be worst hit, as many traders depend on the passing trade from the 100,000 visitors who come annually to the marine attraction.
The province's towns and villages need something to distinguish themselves in order to bring in tourists. This newspaper has often argued that greater development of craft or similar industries can be just the boost that these local economies need.
The oft quoted example is Hey-on-Wye on the Wales-England border which has become a literary mecca with at least two dozen specialist book shops and an annual festival which draws tens of thousands of people.
Exploris is the sort of attraction that makes Portaferry different and its threatened closure would be disastrous. It has been successful and many local people feel that it should be retained and indeed developed.
As well as the purely commercial concerns there is also the question of what will happen to the more than 3,000 marine specimens held there. Some can be introduced into Strangford Lough to replenish depleted stocks but many others would have to be killed if the facility closes and that only adds to the opposition voices against a shutdown.
Ards councillors have a difficult decision to make but they must weigh up the impact on tourism in the area – and the ripple effect that will have on local businesses – as well as the environmental considerations.
On balance there is a strong argument for attempting to retain the facility. It is unique in the province and marine life is something which stirs the imagination of young and old alike.
The loss of Exploris should be avoided if at all possible.