Underwater wonderland

Glenn CordingleyBroome Advertiser
Mark Harris next to one of the tanks he hopes to use to breed barramundi.
Camera IconMark Harris next to one of the tanks he hopes to use to breed barramundi. Credit: Picture: Glenn Gordingley, Glenn Gordingley and Jakeb Waddell

A businessman is pumping millions of dollars into constructing a purpose-built aquarium wonderland in Broome modelled on local waters.

The venture has been welcomed by Australia’s North West Tourism and Shire of Broome president Ron Johnston as a valuable addition to the community and tourism.

Aqua Broome Submerse Yourself is designed to revive the old Manbana Aquaculture Hatchery and Discovery Centre behind the fuel tanks and near the wharf into a must-see attraction.

The project is the brainchild of Mark “Sharky” Harris and boasts several tanks the size of rooms and a number of smaller versions that will illustrate where different fish live, from Roebuck Bay to mangrove-infested creek systems.

One of the larger tanks replicates the jetty in Broome, complete with barnacle-encrusted pylons.

Mr Harris said the plan was to educate and entertain visitors from school children to tourists by displaying what fish and underwater creatures live in local areas and landmarks, including the reef at Gantheaume Point.

He also intends to tap into the lucrative cruise ship industry as passenger ships carrying thousands of people berth at the jetty less than a kilometre away.

The entrepreneur has a 21-year lease on the property, which has been in limbo for eight years.

A series of large tanks are being built to house dozens of species of fish, mostly unique to the region.

The tour starts with a customised tank that imitates creek systems, with an artificial mangrove tree sprouting from the centre.

“This will showcase how ecosystems actually live and breathe through an environment that simulates what live in Broome waters,” Mr Harris said.

“We will have about 15 tanks that will take visitors on a journey covering Broome waters.”

Australia’s North West Tourism chief executive Glen Chidlow said the facility would appeal to the family market because it would open all year.

Shire of Broome president Ron Johnston believes the facility would be “a great addition” to the town.

“I urge locals to support this new venture and go and have a look when it opens to help spread the word,” he said.

Mr Harris has hired a marine scientist to oversee the operation and help conduct guided tours.

“We really want to value add to the tourism experience in Broome and we believe this will provide a unique opportunity that will attract visitors locally, nationally and internationally,” he said.

In an effort to diversify, Mr Harris intends to create an aquaculture enterprise at the back of the property where barramundi fingerlings will be bred for sale to the domestic and commercial markets.

“We hold a multi-species aquaculture licence which enables us to sell a variety of marine species to the general public and businesses, including supermarkets and restaurants,” he said.

“We believe this will do well, because there is nowhere where consumers can buy fresh fish in Broome. We are also investigating breeding and rearing ornamental fish to sell to aquarium markets.”

Mr Harris is exploring the possibility of developing the aquaculture component.

“We will explore the growing of cherabin (prawns) for research from hatching to market size, which the public would be able to view,” he said.

The business is planning a grand open day on June 3.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails