Explore the Cairns Aquarium, Queensland

When you visit the Cairns Aquarium displays, and absorb the information presented, it reinforces awareness and reverence for how interconnected we are with all things great and small.

My recent travel was to visit the new world-class Cairns Aquarium in Queensland, Australia. I’d been there just before it opened and now would be there when all 16,000 creatures were housed in one of the 10 North Queensland ecosystems created for them for the edu-enthrallment of visitors.

Cairns Aquarium is an imposing structure with tectonic plate design to the facade

I would also get a detailed, lengthy personal tour of the ‘back of the house and a rare opportunity to feed some of the fish. The fascinating off-limits technical installations control all the habitat displays 24/7. And I would get to do so while escorted by one of the enthusiastic developer-owners, my son Andrew.

Cairns is in equatorial Northern Queensland. I had visited Cairns twice before this. It is close to the world heritage sites of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and Daintree National Park. Unlike the nearby Reef, The Daintree is a mountainous rainforest with gorges and beaches; both with unique flora and fauna.

An emerald tree monitor found in the Tropical Rainforest exhibit features some of the most incredible snakes, lizards, and frogs ever seen – along with spiders and insects that are some of the biggest and meanest rainforest giants alive.

Only about 25% of the 250,000 annual visitors to Cairns take a tour to the Great Barrier Reef, and many of them get sea-sick, really sea-sick! Not an advertised benefit of paying the ticket price for a 3 hour boat trip there and 3 hours return.

And generally, they don’t see much. There are only a few days per year when the conditions are right for sunlight to enable such views. The media productions we are familiar with, showing the vivid colours of the flora and innumerable fauna species, are made with underwater high intensity lighting.

The Deep Reef: Replicates the reef “drop off; it is 300,00 litres, 10 M high x 8.5 M wide

That helped make the business case that Cairns needed a world-class Aquarium with science-based displays to feature a unique visitor experience based on interacting with the creatures from these environments. With their inherent love of animals and nature, and their desire to actively contribute to the conservation of the region’s unique wildlife, Andrew and his partner took on this incredibly ambitious and demanding project.

The 1.8 million litre “Oceanarium” is home to a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks and other large ocean predators that can be seen through a 20 metre, 270 degree underwater viewing tunnel and a 360 degree five-metre-deep viewing room.

After 7 years of development, it has just celebrated its third full year in business. It was the first public aquarium built in Australia in 17 years and it opened with stellar reviews which continue to this day. It now supports over 120 full-time technical staff and support staff.

Unlike other aquaria, Cairns Aquarium does not feature flora and fauna from other parts of the world.  The Cairns Aquarium is dedicated to featuring local species of tropical North Queensland.

The River Systems The 400,000 litre “River Monsters” displays the Gulf Savannah’s highly endangered freshwater Sawfish, and other weird giant freshwater creatures.

As well, it is the only aquarium in the world to exclusively showcase the fish, animals, plants and habitats of the only two adjoining World Heritage protected areas: The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest

Leila the Sea Tortoise

The Cairns Aquarium’s research arm conducts vital research & development in species preservation and re-population, aquaculture reproductive bio-technology development.  It also collaborates with industry partners to explore renewable clean energy technologies in marine, tropical and equatorial environments.

In addition to the displays, the Aquarium also hosts well-known contemporary Dundees restaurant, allowing people to relax and enjoy a meal with an ever-changing panorama of fascinating sea life.

Dundees Restaurant at Cairns Aquarium

The state of the art Aquarium, an incredible educational experience that I enjoy on every visit, is an achievement for which, as Andrew’s Mom, I am understandably proud.

About the Author

Elizabeth author photo

Elizabeth McLaren grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand, where as a child she was inspired to paint. She is a full-time artist working in both oils and watercolours. Now living in North Vancouver, she visits her son whenever she gets the opportunity. https://www.elizabethmclaren.com/

Photo Credits:  Cairns Aquarium

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