Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Underwater World Singapore to close its doors on 26 June 2016

Entry fees to Sentosa 'icon' cut to 1991 prices; search for new homes for animals ongoing
By Chew Hui Min and Trina Anne Khoo, The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2016

Underwater World Singapore will be closing after 25 years, it announced yesterday, as the lease for the premises on Sentosa expires in less than two years.

The early closure of the aquarium on June 26 is to facilitate the transfer of the animals to their new homes, a spokesman for Underwater World said.

The Sentosa attraction faces competition from the new Marine Life Park and Universal Studios theme park, which are also located on the resort island.

The aquarium, run by Haw Par Corporation, has found a new home for its vulnerable or endangered marine animals.

"After nearly a year reviewing suitable facilities, we found a home for our pink dolphins, fur seals and otters," a Haw Par spokesman said.

They were moved to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China, one of the largest marine parks in the world, on Sunday.

Chimelong was chosen as the Pearl River estuary near Zhuhai is one of the main habitats of the protected pink dolphins, also known as the Chinese white dolphin.

However, the search for suitable homes for other marine creatures at Underwater World is ongoing.

Haw Par also operates Underwater World Pattaya in Thailand, which is not affected, its spokesman said.

It does not look like there are plans for the site for now.

Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) said that following the decision by Haw Par to close Underwater World, it is "looking into refreshing the site with new and exciting experiences for all guests visiting Sentosa".

Mr Philip Chan, the senior supervisor of divers at Underwater World, was sad about the closure. "After caring for the animals for 25 years, I feel sad that Underwater World Singapore is closing. We'll all miss the fishes," he said.

According to its website, the attraction has 2,500 marine creatures across 250 species. They include sharks, rays, octopuses, turtles and many species of fish.

The aquarium will mark its closure with a month of charitable activities. It will give beneficiaries from charities it has worked with free admission to the attraction.

It will also lower ticket prices to its 1991 opening price from today - $9 per adult and $5 per child - against the usual prices of $29.90 for adults and $20.90 for children.

When Underwater World opened in May 1991, it was the largest tropical fish oceanarium in Asia. Built at a cost of more than $20 million, it was a big draw for tourists, and the opening bumped up visitor figures for Sentosa.

More than 30 million visitors have visited since it opened, said its spokesman.

Mr Allan Chia, who heads the Master of Business Administration programme at SIM University, said that Underwater World is a "micro attraction" as it is targeted only at people who want to see sea creatures.

Noting that Underwater World was a major attraction in the 1990s, when Sentosa did not have many attractions then, he said an issue now is that "there are other things like Resorts World Sentosa's attractions".

Dr Michael Chiam, senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that because Underwater World's visitorship had dwindled over the years, the impact of its closure on the tourism industry "is not that great".

But there has been an outpouring of nostalgia since news of the attraction's closing broke on social media.

Geriatric occupational therapist Ummi Nurul Syafiqah, 21, said it is an iconic attraction in Singapore, comparing the aquarium to other landmarks such as the Merlion and the Esplanade.

Reminiscing about the attraction's underwater tunnel, Ms Syafiqah said that "one of the most awesome parts of Underwater World is that you could see sea creatures like sharks swimming above" as you walked along the tunnel or just stood on the travellator.

Sea of visitors at Underwater World before its closure
Visitorship triple the daily average as slashed admission prices and nostalgia draw many
By Lin Yangchen and Rachel Oh, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2016

Large crowds thronged the submarine tunnels of Underwater World Singapore (UWS) yesterday as the iconic oceanarium began the countdown to its closure on June 26, after 25 years and more than 30 million visitors.

With the school holidays in full swing and admission fees slashed to 1991 prices, it was difficult to negotiate one's way through the massive crowd of tourists and local families with children when The Straits Times visited yesterday.

Around 4,100 visitors admired the marine life there yesterday, nearly triple the average daily visitorship, said Haw Par Corporation, which runs UWS.

The slashed admission prices - from $29.90 to $9 for adults and from $20.60 to $5 for children - attracted businessman Harry Yeo, 43, who was visiting UWS for the first time with his wife and two sons.

Mr Yeo said: "I didn't visit last time because I thought it was too expensive."

Over the years, UWS has bred pink dolphins and about 15 species of fish and sharks.

It has also released critically endangered Hawksbill turtles and collaborated in a study of their migratory behaviour.

In recent years, though, UWS has been facing competition from the Marine Life Park and Universal Studios theme park, also on Sentosa.

On Monday, it announced it will close, as its lease expires in less than two years.

When Mr Ivan Goh, 45, heard the announcement of UWS' imminent closure, he knew he had to pay a visit to the aquarium.

"Twenty years ago, I came here ... and made a lot of good memories, so I wanted to bring my children here to make memories as well," said the salesman, who took his mother and three children along. "I'm sad that it's going to close."

His sentiments were shared by many Singaporean visitors.

Educator Soh Meng Le, 36, who was there with his wife and two young children, remembers UWS as a popular attraction of the past.

"Besides the bird park and the zoo, at that time, this (UWS) was the next biggest thing," he said.

Ms Tan Li Ying prefers UWS for its "child-friendliness".

"I feel that the fish seem closer and the viewing panels are the right height for my young children," said the 38-year-old mother, who thinks it is a pity the place has to close.

She also has childhood memories of the aquarium. "My dad would bring me (to UWS), and we would watch the pink dolphins."

Five pink dolphins, three fur seals and five otters have already been transferred to the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China.

Haw Par said the transportation plan was co-developed by experts at UWS and the Zhuhai attraction, and that the animals have settled into their new homes.

Suitable destinations are being sought for the rest of the marine inhabitants.

UWS said it is holding a outplacement programme for its 70 staff to prepare them for future careers.

Mr Philip Chan, 62, who has been with UWS since the beginning and supervises the team of divers who care for the fish, feels sad that UWS is closing.

"Diving in the UWS tunnel is a special experience," he said.

"The animals have also grown familiar with us. The sharks, I think, can actually sense the presence of different divers.

"Every diver has a different breathing pattern and a different style of feeding."

He added: "Many ex-staff also told me that they'll want to visit and see the fishes one last time."

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