IN yet another major blow for tourism in Nelson Mandela Bay – and the city‘s pride – the shutdown of Bayworld has begun.
Plans for the dismantling of Port Elizabeth‘s most widely recognised and, arguably, biggest tourist attraction will be presented to city elders today.
At a sport, recreation, arts and cultural services committee meeting today, councillors will be briefed on details of the first phase of a plan that includes the decommissioning of the already dolphin-free dolphin lake and grandstand, the relocation of Bayworld‘s seal colony to the National Zoo in Pretoria, and the decommissioning of the predator tank, home to ragged-tooth, leopard and tiger catsharks.
Although officials say nothing has been finalised, discussions are reportedly under way to relocate some of the fish from the Oceanarium to the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town and other aquariums around the country.
The plans to dismantle Bayworld come hot on the heels of other major blows recently, such as the stripping of Wells Estate Beach‘s Blue Flag status, and the end-of-the-line retirement of the world-renowned Apple Express.
Bayworld director Sylvia van Zyl admitted yesterday that the Oceanarium facilities would soon no longer be accessible to visitors and tourists, although things would “continue as is for three months. Infrastructure that can no longer be maintained in a cost-effective manner will be decommissioned,” she said.
The rapid decline of the cash- strapped Bayworld accelerated after dolphins Domino and Dumisa were sent to Ocean Park in Hong Kong in 2009.
Even though the community rallied to save Bayworld, the Port Elizabeth institution could apparently not secure adequate funding to continue operating.
DA ward councillor Dean Biddulph said, given the municipality‘s continued bold commitment to expanding the tourism industry and creating jobs in the sector, he was at a loss to understand how these landmark fiascos – the loss of Bayworld, the Apple Express and the Blue Flag beaches over the past few months – “could contribute in any way” to this objective.
“The short-term solution should always have been the rehabilitation of the facility to allow for the quickest possible return of our dolphins to re-establish the biggest revenue stream for the facility. This has been completely ignored. One can only draw the conclusion that those who have the ability to resolve the challenges facing Bayworld either do not genuinely care, or do not understand the value of facilities such as these. What have we got left to show our tourists?”
Van Zyl said the museum and snake park would be open for all their usual activities, while the Oceanarium would be scaled down systematically, creating a number of “attractive, live marine displays” to maintain public awareness and interest in the marine life of the Bay.
“Within 12 to 18 months, a funding plan for the full redevelopment of Bayworld will be explored and established by a multi-party intervention task team involving the Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture Department, Economic Development and Environmental Affairs Department and the Department of Education.
“This team has the task of immediately stabilising the operations and financial status of Bayworld, and providing interim management and financial support in the medium term, while working towards the big redevelopment plan,” she said.
“The museum has been in the city for 154 years. It‘s not likely to close its doors to the public anytime soon.”
Biddulph, however, said the “recovery plan” seemed to be more of a “closing-down” plan that essentially spelt the end of Bayworld, for good.
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