Pounds 12m needed for national aquarium

A NATIONAL Marine Aquarium attracting half a million visitors a year to learn about environmental conservation could open its doors in Plymouth in 1996, if enough money can be found to pay the pounds 12m to pounds 16m construction costs.

Dr Geoff Potts, from the Marine Biological Association (MBA) in Plymouth, yesterday reiterated how important it was for Britain to have a national aquarium. Writing in Monday's Independent, Sir David Attenborough, this year's president of the British Association, had made a powerful plea for the educational benefits that would follow from such an institution.

Dr Potts said a site was available in Plymouth, within 200 yards of the Mayflower Steps. International experience showed that, to be successful, such aquariums need a high level of expert input, and as Plymouth was a European centre of excellence in marine biology, the city was the logical place for a national aquarium.

The MBA had carried out a detailed feasibility study of the project which would consist of 10 major exhibits, including a trawler, to illustrate the theme of fisheries. It would also have a coral reef, and a 'walk-through' shark tank, where visitors traverse the tank inside transparent acrylic tunnels while sharks swim overhead. Some 2,000 species, with many tens of thousands of specimens, would be on show.

Dr Potts estimated that the project could bring as many as 1,400 jobs to the Plymouth area, an important factor as the dockyards were run down.

However, he said the recession had meant that finding the money for the project was very difficult, even though once constructed, it would be self-financing.