Reef HQ Aquarium through 33 years

While the key feature of our aquarium has been timeless (the coral reef exhibit that is the world's largest coral reef aquarium), Reef HQ Aquarium has not been without change. For our 33rd birthday, we are taking a look at Reef HQ over the decades and hope you find some fond memories in what were former features and exhibits of Reef HQ Aquarium.

The beginning with 'Great Barrier Reef Wonderland'

Upon opening, Reef HQ Aquarium was known as 'Great Barrier Reef Wonderland' and a wonderland it was with its grand opening on June 24th, 1987, bringing the wonder and spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef to all. It was not until 1999 that the aquarium was renamed 'Reef HQ Aquarium.'

Reef HQ Aquarium in the early 2000s

In 2002 the Aquarium was closed to the public for almost five months to maintain and upgrade the facility. A key change to Reef HQ Aquarium during this time was made behind the scenes to how we collect water for our exhibits. To read more about this process, click here.

Changes that you may remember include the relocation of the Waterview Cafe from upstairs to downstairs.

The Discovery Lagoon was also upgraded.

Reef HQ mid-2000s to today

Following the 2002 major renovations much of the aquarium has remained the same with minor upgrades to exhibits, such as the mangroves exhibit.

Looking forward for Reef HQ

In December 2019, Reef HQ Aquarium received $26.9 million in the Government's mid-year economic fiscal outlook and in May 2020 a further $2.6 million as part of the Relief and Recovery Fund to assist Great Barrier Reef Tourism and the North Queensland regional economy.

This recent investment of $2.6 million will be used over the next 14 months, to upgrade life support systems through Reef HQ Aquarium. Systems that will be upgraded include those that assist with maintaining temperature, salinity, filtration and the water quality for our animals. A major component of this is our reverse osmosis.

Reverse osmosis in an aquarium removes salts and impurities from the water. Our system is a reverse reverse osmosis machine, in that is concentrates the salinity in our tanks, which we require for our corals and marine life, and displaces freshwater received through rain during the wet season. Our current machine was installed in 2011 and can produce 9,000 litres per day. The new system will produce 22,000 litres per day, which enables it to remove around 70mm of rain from the coral reef exhibit per day. This upgrade to the system is needed to keep up with consistent rainy days during our tropical wet season.

The $26.9 million will be used over four years and will require Reef HQ to close from February 2021 for up to 12 months. These are primarily capital works that relate to demolition, replacement and upgrade to ageing infrastructure at our 33-year-old facility. The aggressive tropical environment and stressed that have resulted from holding in excess of 4 million litres of salt water, have impacted the facility since its build. Some of the works include:

  • Acrylic Viewing Panes. The viewing windows into our two largest exhibits, the coral reef exhibit and predator tank, have only had maintenance works carried out and no major work since their installation 33 years ago. The steel mullions in the centre of these viewing windows are susceptible to corrosion from salt and will be removed when the viewing panes are upgraded with new materials and technology that has been developed in more recent years. Removing these mullions will provide unobstructed views into our premier tanks.
  • Refurbishment of the Turtle Hospital. A favourite for many visitors is their tour to the Turtle Hospital. To ease logistics of visiting the hospital and increase the space in this area for visitors, the Turtle Hospital will be improved. This will expand the guest experience and showcase conservation efforts more readily.
  • Replacement of the shipwreck 'heritage' exhibit. The backdrop in our predator tank is that of the SS Yongala, a shipwreck famous for its tragic sinking in 1911 and the iconic marine life that now aggregates there. Our replica, affected by time and the saltwater will be removed, with a new centrepiece designed and installed.
  • Structural works. Repairs and waterproofing are required for a number of external and internal walls due to concrete corrosion, which has been caused from years of heat, humidity and / or saltwater ingress.

These works will ensure the longevity of Reef HQ Aquarium, as the national education centre for the Great Barrier Reef and a major tourist attraction in North Queensland, for future years.