Refurbishment Overview

Since December 2019, the Australian Government have invested $40.1 million in the refurbishment of Reef HQ Aquarium.

  • The original funding of $26.9 million was for capital works that relate to demolition, replacement and upgrade to ageing infrastructure at our 33-year-old facility. The aggressive tropical environment and stress that has resulted from holding in excess of 4 million litres of salt water, have impacted the facility since its build. Some of the works include upgrades to the coral reef exhibit, the predator tank, Turtle Hospital and back-of-house areas.
  • As part of the Government’s COVID19 Relief and Recovery Fund to assist Great Barrier Reef tourism and the North Queensland regional economy, we received $2.6 million for the upgrade and maintenance to the animal life support systems. These systems control the environments within the live exhibits and are crucial to the health and care of our animals. Systems that will be upgraded include those that assist with maintaining temperature, salinity, filtration and water quality. It will also provide energy security through back up power supply.
  • In October, a funding boost of $5million from the COVID19 Relief and Recovery Fund, will see a modern new facade, and a new admissions and foyer area to enhance visitor accessibility at the Aquarium.
  • Lastly, $5.6 million for upgrades to exhibits, to refresh the visitor experience.

The redevelopment of Reef HQ Aquarium is a keystone project within Townsville's Waterfront Priority Development Area and supports the Townsville 2020 vision to create world-class experiences to drive economic growth through new investment and greater tourism spending.

The majority of the works will be undertaken when Reef HQ Aquarium closes from February 2021.


Works that will benefit the visitor experience

Revitalisation of viewing windows for unobstructed views

The viewing windows into our two largest exhibits, the coral reef exhibit and predator tank, will have the steel mullions in the centre removed. They are susceptible to corrosion from salt. Removing these mullions will provide unobstructed views into our premier exhibits.

Rejuvenation of the Turtle Hospital for accessibility

A favourite for many visitors is a 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.

Refreshment 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, providing educational opportunities to highlight the Great Barrier Reef’s heritage values.

Rekindle an iconic façade for the Aquarium

For many years, Reef HQ’s public ‘face’ is the existing iconic spire of the Omnimax Theatre that is due to be demolished with the redevelopment of the adjacent site, the cultural centre. A new façade will create a distinctive and clearly identifiable landmark for the aquarium, and enhance street appeal and accessibility for the visitor.

Reinvigoration of exhibits

The visitor experience and educational content will be enriched, through the reinvigoration of exhibits to include hands on experiences, scientific demonstrations and modernisation of interactive technology.

As part of the exhibit revitalisation, the Authority is undertaking a consultation process with Reef Traditional Owners and co-design process to develop Connection of Sea Country exhibitions and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage education / exhibits, and reef education resource and program development that will support the Authority in improving the wider community’s understating of cultural knowledge, connection to sea connection and the protection and promotion of Indigenous heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

Renewal of the foyer

The front of house entry will be redesigned to become a modern and functional foyer for visitor access. This includes an upgrade to technology, such as self-serving kiosks and turnstiles, to enhance the operating efficiency to improve the visitor service experience.


Works that are necessary that visitors won’t see

Structural Works

Repairs and / or waterproofing are required for a number of external and internal areas due to concrete corrosion, which has been caused from years of heat, humidity and / or saltwater ingress. This includes:

  • Walls of the wave machine
  • Elements on the observation deck: gantry crane posts, waterproof membrane on the deck, and steel canopy that supports some of our solar panels.
  • Walls of the generator room
  • Upgrades to the dive lock and a dive supervision hub

Mechanical Services

A number of mechanical services require replacing as they have come to the end of their life. This includes air conditioning units, sand filters and protein skimmers (which assist in the life support of our exhibits to ensure water is clean and at optimum condition for our marine life), and control systems / software that monitor the tanks and trigger alarms should a fault occur that requires investigation.

Electrical Services

The majority of the electrical infrastructure is nearly 30 years old and requires rectification and upgrades to meet current compliance standards. A substation and our main switchboard requires relocation, including the replacement of cabling and field distribution boards.

Security Measures

We will undertake a complete upgrade of our security systems, including our CCTV system, access control and deterrents.

Hydraulic Services

Some hydraulic services will be modified, replaced or repaired as part of the retrofit actions in other works, including the relocation of a stormwater drain and mains water supply for the new fire hydrant system.


During our closure

Reef HQ Aquarium will continue to engage with the community, through:

  • the education outreach program and continued creation of teaching resources that link to the curriculum;
  • attendance at community events; and
  • social media channels. To stay connected to Reef HQ and the Great Barrier Reef follow our social pages and check the website for regular updates.
Last updated: 09/11/20