Walking into New Plymouth’s marine information centre is like going on an underwater adventure – without getting wet.
Kekeno frolic in the waves, crayfish peer from beneath rocks, googly eyed triplefins hide among jewelled anenome and sponges, well, they sponge. Fishy facts line the walls, a rock pool sits in the middle of the room, seabirds fly overhead and Mounga Taranaki presides over them all.
Originally opened in 1997 as a marine discovery centre, the tiny Department of Conservation leased building on New Plymouth’s waterfront was reopened in September after a mammoth 18 month project to give it a new lease of life. Local DOC staff and the Nga Motu Marine Reserve society (NMRS) saw the advantage of upgrading the displays in the building as a key educational tool.
It was a truly local project with NMRS members, DOC staff (Kay Davies and Callum Lilley) designers, sign makers, landscapers, schools, iwi and marine biologists from Taranaki all working together to squeeze everything in on a tight budget.
TSB Community Trust, energy company AWE and its Tui Joint Venture Partners funded the project. Ngamotu Marine Reserve Society members and DOC staff then put in some long hours dreaming up the concept, sourcing images, researching interesting facts about sea creatures and double and triple checking layouts and text.
When the centre was first built the Taranaki region had just one marine protected area – the Sugar Loaf Island Marine Park. These days, thanks to some hard lobbying by locals, the region also has two marine reserves: Tapuae and Parininihi.
Unfortunately the wild-west coast weather prevents many people from experiencing the reserves first hand. That’s where the marine information centre comes in.
“If we want people to care for and protect the marine environment we need to show them what a fascinating and diverse place it is,” says DOC’s Kay Davies.
“The aim was to make the building a snorkelling, diving, beach combing experience without getting wet or blown to bits. We’ve got a pretty special coastal environment here – it’s just a bit tricky to get out and experience it. We think we’ve enough information to keep people amazed and informed.”
Outside, the garden is planted with rare Taranaki coastal plants propagated by children from nearby Moturoa School. Penguin nest boxes hidden amongst the foliage are ready for new residents.
The little building is ideally located to get key messages across to the public as well as been used as a classroom by local schools. It’s in a popular visitor/recreation area called Breakwater Bay which lies at the start of New Plymouth’s popular Coastal Walkway, and includes cafes, commercial fishing businesses, a dive shop, sport fishing club, marine tour operator, Port Taranaki and the busy boat ramp.
While the Taranaki community is already doing great stuff with regard to marine and coastal education and protection, Kay says the little information centre will help bring everything together. “It’s a great little space made by the community for the community.”