Exploris Aquarium gains five-star status from Tourism NI as visitor numbers reach 180,000

Celebrating a full five stars are: Kevin Quinn, director Exploris; John McGrillen, CEO Tourism NI; Alison Stobie, Ards and North Down Borough Council; Kieran Quinn and Phelim Devlin, Exploris directors
Gail Bell

BELIEF in the future of Exploris, Northern Ireland's only aquarium and seal sanctuary, has been rewarded with growing visitor numbers and a five-star rating from Tourism NI.

After a few choppy years, the facility was saved from permanent closure with a £2 million investment, re-opening in August, 2016.

The Portaferry attraction has attracted almost 180,000 national and international visitors over the past 12 months and has been awarded a coveted five-star accreditation under the Tourism NI Quality Grading Scheme.

Congratulating staff on their achievement, John McGrillen, chief executive Tourism NI, said: "Following the recent investment, Exploris is a shining example of the benefits of a public and private sector tourism business partnership.

"The redevelopment has created a vibrant conservation and educational visitor experience which is worthy of an outstanding visitor attraction grading.

"The facility joins an elite club of only 11 other five-graded attractions, with this accolade providing an additional marketing tool to help drive visitors to other top attractions around Northern Ireland."

Ann Moreland, general manager of Exploris, said: "Our team has worked exceptionally hard to create a vibrant, fun and educational visitor experience which capitalises on our location in Portaferry and on the scenic shores of Strangford Lough.

"We will continue to develop and innovate our offering and we already have plans underway for new exhibits for 2018, along with a great calendar of events.

"A major part of our five-star appeal is our national seal sanctuary and, in the aftermath of storm Ophelia, our team has been kept extremely busy with an intake of eight grey seal pups, all in need of rehabilitation before release back to the wild."

New features at the aquarium following the investment included several different zones such as Viking, tropical and reptile areas, as well as more fish, two otters and a Nile crocodile rescued from a residential pond in Co Carlow.

The north's other five-star attractions included Titanic Belfast, HMS Caroline, Crumlin Road Gaol, Giant's Causeway, Laurel Villa Tours of Seamus Heaney Country, Long Life Surf School, Lyric Theatre, Mount Ida Pottery, Taste and Tour NI and City Tours.

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