The director of Ireland’s largest aquarium fears they may have to shut their doors without a State rescue package to help to pay the huge bills to run their giant tanks.
Dingle Oceanworld – which is home to tiger sharks, loggerhead turtles and the country’s only gentoo penguin colony – has overheads of around a million euros a year for fixed costs like massive power bills, staff, feed and veterinary bills.
With takings already down by over €200,000 since lockdown, Kevin Flannery is hoping they can continue to operate the hugely popular tourist attraction with exhibits such as deep tropical ocean tanks and their polar exhibition which mimics icy polar conditions.
He said: “We’re way down financially. We still have a cost of €110,000 for our power alone every year.
“We’re down about €230,000 so far for the three months because all the students and all the schools who would have come are gone.”
Staff in Dingle’s aquarium have been in receipt of the Covid-19 payment during lockdown but the director of Dingle Oceanworld said they are going to need State aid to get through the dramatic downturn in takings due to the pandemic.
“We got the subsidy from the council in the form of the suspension of the rates and we’ve had help with the Covid payment for staff. We have enquired but there is no major grant aid available.
“But if we don’t get some form of major grant assistance from the government in some form we’re gone, we’re dead in the water.
“All the zoos and aquariums in England have got over €100,000. Chester Zoo, because it is a registered charity, has got over £2.3 million from the public. “
While the aquarium is a private company, he says it plays a vital role in rescuing marine animals and the conservation of endangered species like natterjack toads which are native to Kerry.
“There are only three aquariums left in the country. It’s us, Galway and Bray,” he said. “But because we’re a private company we’re left holding the baby. We do all the rescue work and do the lobster restocking and conservation work.
“The conservation work such as our reptile rescue would be a huge loss. We work to conserve species like natterjack toads and rehabilitate turtles that wash ashore all over Ireland.”
He said closing their doors would be a last resort.
“We would have to rehome all the marine mammals and water-based wildlife”, he said. “It’s the last thing we want to do but at this point in time if we don’t get some State help, it won’t be viable.
We have over 40 people employed in Dingle every summer in the aquarium which is a huge amount of jobs in a town like Dingle.”
The manager of the aquarium, Maura O’Shea, said it is a vital tourist attraction for Kerry.
She said: “It’s not just Dingle peninsula, for Kerry as a whole this is one the main visitor attractions. Our overheads are around a million a year. There is no saving for us in closing because we are caring for the animals, electricity is still being used, insurance is still there.”
Their doors opened this week to tourists with new Covid-19 measures in place.
She said: “The main thing is it’s pre-booked tickets, there are all time slots. We’re asking people not to dwell for more than two hours, there is a one way flow of traffic in the aquarium.”