Refurbishment Overview

Since December 2019, the Australian Government have invested $80.1 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 34-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 $7.6 million for the upgrade and maintenance to the animal life support systems, and to improve visitor access to the facility with a modern new facade and a new admissions and foyer area at the Aquarium.
  • As part of the October 2020 Federal Budget, Reef HQ received $5.6 million for upgrades to exhibits to refresh the visitor experience. Included in this funding, the Authority is undertaking a consultation process with Reef Traditional Owners to co-design Connection to Sea Country exhibitions to improve understanding of cultural knowledge and the protection and promotion of Indigenous heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Lastly, the Australian Government, Queensland Government and Townsville City Council are working together to build Townsville's appeal as an international education and training destination investing $40 million in Reef HQ Aquarium as part of the Townsville City Deal.

Townsville City Deal partnership logos - Australian Government, Queensland Government, City of Townsville

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 designs will be refined through a co-design process with the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Aquarium is built, the Wulgurukaba people.

Reef HQ Aquarium closed on February 1st, 2021 to begin works.


Works that will benefit the visitor experience

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. A new façade will create a distinctive and clearly identifiable landmark for the aquarium, and enhance street appeal and accessibility for the visitor.

Concept for Reef HQ Aquarium's renewed foyer

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.

Reinvigoration of exhibits to complement a new narrative journey

The visitor experience and educational content will be enriched, through a narrative journey and reinvigorated exhibits that include immersive, hands on experiences, scientific demonstrations and modernisation of interactive technology.

  • The formation of the Reef - The beginning of the visitor experience will form an emotional connection to the Reef, telling Reef Traditional Owner's connection to Sea Country and the science behind the world's largest coral reef system.

Concept image of Reef HQ Aquarium's revitalised exhibits and narrative journey for what makes the Reef great

  • What makes the Reef great -  This portion of the journey highlights the biodiversity of catchments, the coral, the animals and the Reef itself to capture the visitor and provide awareness about what makes the Reef great and why we should care for it.
  • Managing the Marine Park - This section of the narrative speaks to the users of the Reef and how we are working together to build the Reef's resilience to major threats, such as climate change, coastal development, land-based run-off, and threats from direct human use of the Reef.

Concept of Reef HQ Aquarium's reimagined Turtle Hospital and back-of-house hub

  • Protecting the Reef - The journey concludes by showcasing research being undertaken on the Reef and includes a rejuvenated Turtle Hospital to expand the guest experience and showcase conservation efforts more readily. The visitor leaves feeling empowered by the actions we are taking, and we can all take together, to care for the Reef.

As part of the exhibit revitalisation, the Authority is undertaking a consultation process with Reef Traditional Owners to co-design Connection of Sea Country exhibitions to improve understanding of cultural knowledge and the protection and promotion of Indigenous heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

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.

Reef HQ Aquarium concept imagery revitalisation of viewing windows

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. Removing these mullions will provide unobstructed views into our premier exhibits.

Reef Education Hub

This location will better cater for groups and repeat visitors through interactive, hands-on learning areas and exhibits.

Concept of Reef HQ Aquarium's Reef Education Hub - a hands on learning area for groups and repeat visitors

Upper Level Opportunities

The upper level presents opportunities for extensive redevelopment. Opportunities include:

  • Enlarged hands on learning facilities
  • High calibre coral propagation setup to encourage visiting academics
  • Dive hub training room for increased product offering for visitors, education groups, tour groups and stakeholders working within the Reef space.

* Please note: All concept images are subject to change.


Works that are necessary that visitors won’t see

Structural Works

Modifications, upgrades and repairs, including 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 maintenance and upgrades to meet current 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 facebook page and check the website for regular updates.

Sustainability recognized at NECA awards

Image credit Stowe Australia

Reef HQ Aquarium is not only an aquarium and research facility in Townsville Queensland, it is home to the world’s largest living coral reef exhibit. Stowe Australia won the Sustainability award for the Electrical Works at Reef HQ Aquarium – the category was Sustainability (Energy Efficiency and the Environment).

The electrical infrastructure at Reef HQ Aquarium was at the end of its reliable life and needed a critical upgrade to prepare for a major building refurbishment.

The following works were completed by Stowe Queensland on a live facility which remained open to the public for the majority of the project duration with the added complexity of ensuring that the facility was not without electricity for more than two hours at any one time.

The scope included:

  • HV Substation demolition of two 1500kVA Ground Mount Transformers and replacement with one 1000kVA Padmount Transformer
  • Building - main switch board replacement in a new plant room
  • Replacement of field distribution boards throughout the facility
  • New submains to field distribution boards and new corrosion proof cable containment systems
  • Site wide power monitoring and electrical control system SCADA using Schneider PSO and PME allowing for the remote operation of the Main Switch Board to increase safety during switching.
  • 115kWh Sodium Nickle Chloride (Salt Water) Battery System and 30kW Inverter System. New technology that has benefits of being totally recyclable and not containing heavy metals such as lithium and lead.
  • Upgrade of two 30 year old Diesel Generators to electronic speed governors and synchronised to provide more powerful and reliable backup generator power system
  • Additional Solar Power PV to increase system from 200KW to 260KW capacity
  • 3 x Micro Hydro Power Generator system and 4.5kW inverter system
  • Integration with Mechanical BMS and Ice Storage System for Energy Management and Peak Solar Optimisation

Images: © Stowe Queensland.

Reef HQ Aquarium and Stowe Australia

Reef HQ Aquarium, Stowe Australia and the installation of Hydro Generator

Last updated: 31/08/21