This pioneering project transformed the modern aquarium design by removing previous viewing restrictions and allowing visitors to be submersed in the underwater world. This innovative design was an instant success leading to many international awards and a financial payback of less than one year.
Eyebrows were raised when the late Mr Kelly Tarlton
and Mr Ian Mellsop had the idea to build an aquarium in the disused
sewerage holding tanks under Auckland's waterfront.
But two years later, in January 1985, Kelly Tarlton's
brainchild came to fruition when, after 10 months of construction,
Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World was opened. The NZ underground
project wasn't easy, but Kelly and Ian were was not to be put off
by a challenge.
Never before had a 110-metre long, transparent
acrylic tunnel been built so the design was completely innovative.
Importing the prefabricated tunnel sections proved to be just too
expensive, so they flew in enormous, flat sheets of acrylic from
Germany. These were formed into the correct dimensions and then the
one tonne sheets were oven heated and curved to the required tunnel
shape. Before importing the sheets, Ian and Kelly tested this
process on a small piece of the material in his home oven!
The sections were carefully lowered into the site in
special order, through a hole in the footpath of Auckland's
waterfront. After the tunnels were sealed, everyone took a deep
breath as they were tested to ensure they were watertight…and with
a sigh of relief… they found no leaks! This was a world first; a
transparent, underwater tunnel from which the public could be face
to face with Sharks, Stingrays and other marine creatures.
Skilled craftsmen constructed rocky reefs and caves
from concrete and Ian and Kelly's staff carefully selected marine
life from local coastal waters. Finally, the tanks were filled with
filtered seawater and the fish and Sharks moved into their new
home, The Underwater World.