Sevens years after beloved aquarium burns down, proposed new marine education centre in Nelson passes first hurdle

Seven years after an aquarium near Nelson was burnt to the ground, killing hundreds of sea creatures, a proposal for an international marine education centre has passed its first hurdle.

The plans are for a significant landmark for the top of the South Island to establish the region's identity as a marine hub.

Marine educator Richard de Hamel told 1 NEWS the idea got started after the popular Touch the Sea Mapua aquarium was destroyed in a 2011 fire.

"In the days after the aquarium burnt down, many, many school teachers got hold of me and told me how their whole class had been in tears," he said.

Now his sights are set on his largest classroom yet, with the proposed Te Matau Marine Education Centre.

"Nelson is a hub you could say of marine research, fishing, there's all sorts of things relating to the fishing," he said.

Nelson Deputy Mayor Paul Matheson says "a lot of homework" has been done in the last two years before making "the total commitment to proceed".

"You'll hear stories, you'll see visuals, and you'll have a touch experience within this building of what it was like back in the days when the waka were out there fishing and exporting to building it to where we are today".

The Nelson Marlborough region is home to the biggest fishing port in Australasia, with marine science and tourism thriving.  

It's hoped this project will capitalise on that, becoming a regional attraction, like the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth.

The Nelson City Council and the fishing industry are funding a feasibility study.

"We've now got four sites we're looking at for the complex, and we'll make a decision on which one pretty shortly because we've set a deadline - in two years’ time we want to be digging a hole to build this complex,” explains Mr Matheson.

A site on Kinzett Terrace is the preferred option.

The public can also voice their ideas for the centre.  Early concepts include touch pools, a fishing boat simulator, a giant touch screen showing off digital life-sized creatures not found in a typical aquarium and an aquatic themed children's playground.

It comes seven years after a local aquarium near the city burnt down. Source: 1 NEWS