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Belize Aquarium Proposal

The plan is to develop a Coral Reef Interpretive Center in Belize. "Connecting people with Belize's amazing biodiversity to inspire conservation of natural areas for future generations."
by

David Gross

on 12 August 2013

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Transcript of Belize Aquarium Proposal

photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli
PROPOSAL TO DEVELOP A
CORAL REEF INTERPRETIVE CENTER OR AQUARIUM IN BELIZE

Belize has the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere – a marine area rich in biodiversity, and a strong attraction for tourists from around the world. Belize’s rainforests also support amazing creatures and are an exciting destination for Belizeans and visitors.
For years Belize has been establishing protected areas. The designation of these protected areas has made Belize one of the most environmentally advanced countries in the world, with extensive areas of the national territory now designated as protected areas.
"We have the Mesoamerican Reef. There's nothing more interpretive than that. We don't need any artificial aquarium. We have a natural one on our doorstep."
What is an aquarium?
According to the Aquarium and Zoo Association, aquariums have four main functions:
The reason that many aquariums are built is because of economics.
Aquariums are powerful tourist magnets and can be significant economic engines.
A Museum of Biodiversity is being developed in Panama; the interpretive center proposed for Belize is similar in scope. <http://www.biomuseopanama.org/>
Public aquariums are popular tourist attractions wherever they are found throughout the world.
EDUCATION
CONSERVATION
RESEARCH
ENTERTAINMENT
Reef HQ is the largest living coral reef aquarium, located in Townsville, Queensland, Australia.
The aquarium is a part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
The Palau Aquarium is the interpretive division of the Palau International Coral Reef Center
THE FIRST REACTION MIGHT BE:
The National Aquarium opened in 1981.
It was financed by the City of Baltimore and operated by a not for profit corporation.
Two years after it opened an economic impact study determined that the aquarium was the #1 paid attraction in the state, it had created nearly 2000 jobs and was adding $88 Million annually to the local economy.
The purpose of this coral reef interpretive center is to strengthen local environmental literacy and to educate visitors about the amazing biodiversity found in Belize.
MISSION STATEMENT:
"Connecting people with Belize's amazing biodiversity to inspire conservation of natural areas for future generations."
So? Why do we need this?
Let's also provide an experience for cruise ship passengers that will be sustainable: both environmentally and economically. 15% of passengers don't even leave the boat. This attraction gives them a good reason to get off the boat in Belize.
How will we do this?
The model for this coral reef interpretive center is The Wild Center; a hybrid of natural history museum, aquarium and science center which interprets the 6 million acre Adirondack Wilderness in upstate New York.
One visitor told another, "If you pay attention in here, when you go outside it is much more meaningful."
The Belize project was conceived by David Gross, who was a member of the opening team and is currently Curator at The Wild Center.
David has 35 years experience in the aquarium industry as a marine biologist, master naturalist and interpretive guide.
He was on the opening team of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and served as the Director/General Manager of the National Aquarium in Washington DC for nearly 10 years.
The Wild Center opened in 2006. It is 53,000 square ft. and cost about US $33 million to build.
An economic impact study just completed, determined that
The Wild Center contributes
$14 Million annually to the region and it created 277 jobs.
This proposed coral reef interpretive center will borrow the best techniques from museums, aquariums and science centers to deliver a state of the art experience.
There are some people who are not comfortable swimming with sharks.
What's the Plan?
The experience would start with a 50 foot domed theater. Multimedia is particularly useful for showing creatures that are too small or too large to display. Whale sharks and manta rays would require huge aquariums and in the wild may only be seen in Belize for a short period of time during spawning aggregations.

This virtual experience would be the next best thing and they could be experienced here year round.
The plan is to develop a Belize visitor welcome center - to distill the best of Belize in a 3 hour experience. Exhibits of habitats found in areas associated with APAMO would be developed in order to interpret the life found within. Belize's amazing natural resources would be represented: these areas are protected by NGOs which include the Belize Audubon Society, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, Southern Environmental Association and Toledo Institute for Development and Environment.
Organizations doing research in Belize could also have input; the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Smithsonian and the Environmental Research Institute (University of Belize) all have research stations.
The Wild Center was the first LEED certified museum in New York and is a leader in environmental education, interpreting climate change and sustainability.
The exhibits would then follow the path of water from the rainforests of the Maya Mountains, down rivers to the mangroves and sea grass beds, to the coral reefs and beyond.
The Belize Zoo does a commendable job of interpreting terrestrial habitats. This center would focus on aquatic creatures.
Karl Bischof who operates the St. George's Caye Aquarium wrote about this concept:
"The idea of making the beauty of nature accessible to people by displaying and explaining it is a powerful educational tool. It is especially important to help Belizeans to appreciate the reef creatures and to show them the need to protect them. Our public aquarium here on St. Georges Cay might be the smallest aquarium in the world but it is rewarding for us to see our customers being fascinated with their first time encounter of Belizean sea life."
The first gallery entitled Rainforests would include freshwater habitats where visitors may get close and personal with creatures such as red eye tree frogs, neotropical otters and Crocodile.
The Coral Reef Gallery would have displays which would represent iconic locations such Shark Ray Alley at Hol Chan and the Great Blue Hole, but also intimate creatures such as seahorse, octopus and jawfish.
The finale would be a large walk through shark tank.
This multi-use space, which would seat 250 people, would be rented out for after hour events, weddings and banquets; providing an additional revenue source.
In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught. Baba Dioum
"The wonderful Wild Center..." Frommer's Guides
"Stunning state-of the-art museum..." Reader's Digest
For Example; Science on a Sphere is amazing technology and is a very useful tool for explaining how climate change is happening.
OK, Let's see the details.
Annual Operating Budget
A breeding program for the critically endangered Mesoamerican Turtle, locally known as Hickatee, may help save this unique relict species. Its closest relatives are only known from fossils.
This exhibit would be large enough to display hammerhead sharks.
CONSTRUCTION BUDGET
This center would be about the same size as The Wild Center which covers about 50,000 square feet.
Aquariums typically cost ~US$500/square foot; allocating US$16Million for the structure and US$9Million for the exhibits.
US$5Million would cover FF&E, pre-opening operating expenses, and contingency.
Designing to Living Building standards, with self contained water treatment and power may add 30% to the hard costs.
Land cost not included - the ideal site would be 5 - 10 acres with access to good quality saltwater.
The project would employ about 100 FTE during construction which would take ~1.5 years.
THE TOTAL COST TO BUILD THIS FACILITY IS TO BE DETERMINED.
The largest expense would be payroll.
The Center could employ 30-35 FTE employees.
Total expenses = ~US$1.2 - 1.8Million.
Revenue
Admissions Cost:
Adults $18
Seniors (Age 62+) $15
Youth (ages 4 - 18) $9
60,000 visitors = US$930,000
Gift shop revenue = US$232,000
Additional funds would be generated through fund-raising for donations and grants.
An Endowment fund would add ballast.
A market/feasibility study would be done early on to determine accurate financial estimates
ConsultEcon did the initial (very accurate) market analysis study for The Wild Center, and has done numerous studies for US National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Centers.
<http://www.consultecon.com/sectors/museums/visitor_centers/default.cfm>
HOW ARE AQUARIUMS FINANCED?
The first phase of the National Aquarium in Baltimore was funded by the City of Baltimore. The land and facility is owned by the City and operated under contract by a not for profit corporation. <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2001-08-12/entertainment/0108120322_1_aquarium-in-baltimore-aquarium-design-national-aquarium>
Subsequent additions were funded by the State of Maryland, primarily because of the substantial economic impact that it had.
Public/Private Partnership
Privately Owned with Assistance
The Wild Center is privately operated and was funded primarily by donations. New York State did provide US$11Million in grants towards the construction costs. The land was donated by the local school board.
Philanthropy
The Georgia Aquarium was a $250Million gift from Home Depot Founder Bernie Marcus.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium was a gift from David and Lucille Packard of Hewlett Packard Computers.
Bonds backed by City
Several aquariums have been funded by floating bonds: prime examples are the Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, CA) and The Florida Aquarium (Tampa)
Private For Profit
There are several entertainment companies that operate for-profit aquariums; 44 Sea Life Aquariums are operated by Merlin Entertainments (UK), Ripley Entertainment operates two Aquariums and will soon open a new one in Toronto, Kerzner International Resorts operates two
Atlantis Resorts with huge Aquariums. Disney also operates aquariums at EPCOT and in Hawaii.
This route is not recommended because it is extractive. Money is distributed to shareholders. Wouldn't it be better to keep the money generated in Belize?
Our hope is that the Government of Belize will consider a public/private partnership to develop this coral reef interpretive center by donating a site and providing some PACT funding to an NGO established to operate this institution.
There may be funding available through the German Development Cooperative Fund which provided a €15 Million endowment to the MAR Fund for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the Mesoamerican Reef. <http://www.marfund.org/en/new_projects/lanzamientokfw.html>
This German cooperative provided 50% of the funds to develop a similar museum; the "Our Planet Centre" on St. Lucia. <http://www.ourplanetcentre.org/#!sponsors>
Billionaires such as Kirsty and Ernesto Bertarelli may be interested in funding this project if asked. The Bertarellis contributed £3Million to protect Turneffe Atoll. <http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/searescue/article1167746.ece>
Construction Timeline
*The time frame would depend upon funding.
12 months Design
15 - 18 months Construction
3 - 6 months Stocking the exhibits
Until then, for additional information contact:
David Gross belizeaquarium@gmail.com
www.linkedin.com/in/davidjgross/
Skype: david.j.gross144
Join the "Belize Aquarium Supporter" group on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Belize-Aquarium-Supporters-4598556/about
Follow on twitter: @BelizeAquarium
Like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BelizeAquarium
Mission: “Ignite an enduring passion for the Adirondacks where people and nature can thrive together and set an example for the world”
Exhibits would be developed to explain concepts such as; how marine protected areas work, how climate change affects coral reefs and other aquatic ecosystems, sea level rise and ocean acidification. Goal: interpret the scientific work being done here.
For example: Belize provides optimal habitat for mangroves - the trees here are amongst the tallest ever recorded. Visitors would learn about how mangroves prevent erosion and provide critical nursery habitat for most of the fish that we consume.
Hopefully visitors will also take time to get out in nature to do some snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, sailing, kayaking, and to see some dolphins or manatees.
The center would incorporate both indoor and outdoor activities. Museums are perceived as great rainy day activities. Visitation at the Wild Center almost doubles during inclement weather.
We'd expect that this exposure of what Belize has to offer will encourage cruise ship visitors to come back again, as ecotourists, to experience the country for a longer stay.
(Provided as an example)
Project would be organized around the four pillars of sustainable tourism:
effective sustainability planning
maximizing social and economic benefits to the local community
reduction of negative impacts to cultural heritage
reduction of negative impacts to environmental heritage.
(The Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans also followed this model.)
Some aquariums funded using this pathway have struggled.
“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”
Your opportunity to get involved will happen soon.
The ideal site would be at least 5 acres, accessible to cruise ship passengers as well as school groups, and associated with a protected area. Exhibits would need good quality water with at least 28 ppt salinity. Available on site mangroves, sea grasses and/or coral reefs would help make the interpretation experiential.
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