Crispin Till

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Ribbon-cutting marks opening of underwater world at Cairns Aquarium

Hundreds of eager TNQ locals lined up to get a first glimpse inside the $54 million Cairns Aquarium as the facility opened its doors for special visitors.

Inside, while Senator Ian Macdonald, Tourism Minister Steven Ciobo and aquarium co-founders and directors Daniel Leipnik and Andrew Preston were officially cutting the ribbon to mark the opening, the first families were excitedly touring through the 7,800sq m, three level facility.

Check out video from inside the aquarium below!

Cutting the ribbon marked the end of a six year journey, a number of setbacks and delays with Mr Leipnik describing it as an exciting day to finally see people walking through the aquarium.

The doors will be open to the general public on September 19.

"The public has come out in force, so it's a very satisfying day for us," he said.

“When we visited the Reef six years ago we were amazed by the colours and variety of fish and coral but couldn’t help noticing the vast number of people who had made the journey, but for one reason or another, did not go into the water or venture off the islands while others were left wanting to see more.

”A Cairns city location was therefore the ideal place for an attraction of this kind to enhance people’s love of the Reef and marine world while providing absolutely everyone with a memorable experience irrespective of whether they travelled to the Reef or not.

“It is this blend of education, entertainment, conservation and research that provided the impetus to undertake this incredibly rewarding project.”

The Cairns Aquarium is the first facility of its type built in Australia for 18 years and is the only one of its kind in the world to concentrate on showcasing the bio-diversity of TNQ’s rainforest and marine life.

It is also the only attraction of its type in the world to display a number of critically endangered or rarely seen endemic species including the emerald tree monitors, freshwater sawfish, Jardine River painted turtles, ribboned pipefish and the Oceanarium exhibit’s highlight, a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks.

“Visitors will journey through five geographical locations that take people through the Wet Tropics, Cape York, Gulf Savanna, Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea,” he said.

More than 15,000 aquatic animals, fish, plants, and other organisms are housed within 71 live exhibits in the facility that has been curated with engaging interpretative material and tours, providing visitors with an immersive, two-and-a-half-hour journey through 10 life-like and recreated habitats.

These include river systems, creeks and streams, billabongs and flooded waterways, rainforest, forest floor, mangroves, Great Barrier Reef, dangers of the reef, ribbon reefs, and Coral Sea.

The humphead maori wrasse and 4-metre long scrub pythons are currently the biggest animals on show, but the growing hammerhead sharks will soon take over.