Aquarium project filed with Town Planner

A planning application for a public aquarium ‘Oceanic Display and Research Centre’ at Victualling Yard Warehouse, Rosia Bay, has been filed with the Town Planner.

According to the design statement filed by ASK architects with the application the proposed aquarium will not just focus on the global maritime ecosystem but also on the Straits of Gibraltar.

In addition, the aim is to actively contribute to conservation efforts, conduct important research, and provide an engaging educational experience for locals and visitors.

“Jake Julian and Keith Victory, esteemed experts in reptile and fish keeping with over four decades of experience between them, are excited to submit a planning application for the establishment of a public aquarium in Gibraltar,” the design statement said.

“With a target of just 30,000 ticket sales to cover costs, their realistic projections are supported by the existing tourist numbers reaching one million visitors to the nature reserve.”

“Going beyond ticket sales, their vision includes offering a wide range of engaging activities for both locals and tourists, filling a gap in the market.”

“By prioritising inclusivity and collaboration with the educational department, they aim to create a fun and educational experience for all.”

“This ambitious project will be a wonderful addition to Gibraltar’s tourism landscape, providing a vibrant and captivating aquatic destination,” the statement added.

The public aquarium would be on the first floor of the Victualling Yard Warehouse, with plans to restore the area.

According to the design statement, the restoration of the first floor will respect the existing architectural features, maintaining the warehouse's character.

The plans also seek permission to add another floor which will accommodate educational and research facilities as well as the extensive mechanical equipment necessary for running an aquarium. These facilities will also facilitate breeding activities.

A sea view restaurant and terrace, a function/lecture space, laboratories, and classrooms dedicated to education and research will also be housed on this floor.

There will be accommodation for visiting specialists who will “contribute to staff training and engage in research activities”.

To minimize visual impact and noise, the mechanical plant equipment will be integrated within enclosed spaces.

“The aquarium can function as a standalone marine tourist attraction, educational and research facility, or integrate into Rosia Bay's general redevelopment plans, including a complimentary relationship with the proposed new Natural History Museum at Parson's Lodge,” said the design statement.

According to the statement it is hoped that the relationship of the research facilities will promote collaboration across different habitats, facilitating internal research initiatives and conservation programs.

The applicant is also seeking permission for a “captivating mural” by artist Jessica Darch who is known for her Octopus mural in the Upper Town. The mural will feature a school of fish and consideration has been given to the composition, colour palette, and scale.

Advanced Aquarium Technologies (AAT), will design and oversee the aquarium installation, and provide guidance on the facility's operation, including staff training and technical support.

The project will adhere to the standards and best practices outlined by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) for design and exhibit management.

The aquarium will be a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Public Aquarium Network.

The design statement also addresses some concerns that have been raised about the aquarium.

On the welfare of the fish if the aquarium ceases to run the statement said as it will be a part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Public Aquarium Network, this organisation will set in motion through their network with the support of the Aquarium Management team, rehousing of the animals, ensuring their continued welfare.

On thoughts that fish should not be in tanks it stated: “Aquariums, like zoos, provide fun-filled leisure and entertainment activities that double-up as centres for animal rescue, care and rehabilitation, scientific research, education, and conservation.”

On the fate of the building if the aquarium ceases to run it said that all the alterations and additions made to the building will be reversible, allowing for easy restoration to its existing state.

Regarding any concerns of the financial viability of a public aquarium in Gibraltar the statement said the aquarium will be completely privately funded, its viability is supported by realistic projections and a strong foundation.

“With a target of just 30,000 ticket sales a year to cover costs, which seems achievable considering the nature reserve attracted one million visitors, the aquarium has a solid starting point,” it said.

“Additionally, the aquarium will generate additional income through various revenue streams such as the sea view restaurant and terrace, hosting functions, weddings, conferences, and more.”

On the impact on the nature reserve it said the aquarium will collaborate with the nature reserve, Dolphin safari boats, and Alameda wildlife park and Gardens, as well as the proposed new Natural History Museum to be housed at Parsons lodge opposite.

“This partnership aims to position Gibraltar as a destination for eco-tourists seeking nature and wildlife experiences,” it said.

The design statement said that due to the limited car parking space the majority of visitors are expected to arrive by means other than private vehicles and a dedicated bus service will be provided for staff and visitors.

This development has yet to be debated by the Development and Planning Commission. The last day for public comment is July 19, 2023.