Northern Ireland

Exploris aquarium reopens after £2m refurbishment

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Media captionExploris aquarium in Portaferry reopens to public after £2m refurbishment

Northern Ireland's only aquarium has reopened after a £2m refurbishment, having been closed for almost two years.

Exploris in the County Down town of Portaferry was threatened with permanent closure in 2013.

But a rescue package backed by the Northern Ireland Executive and Ards and North Down Borough Council, which owns Exploris, secured its future.

Image caption A tropical fish attraction is one of the biggest additions to Exploris, manager Ann Moreland said

A two-year-old Nile crocodile is among the new attractions at the centre.

New enclosures have been created for fish and other aquatic species at the centre.

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Image caption A young boy admires the bewitching underwater view

The aquarium is also a rescue centre for sick and injured seals and staff care for rescued seal pups until they are strong enough to be released back to sea.

Image caption The seal sanctuary at Exploris looks after sick seals until they are fit to return to the water

Ann Moreland, the general manager at Exploris, said other major changes had been made to the centre.

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Image caption These children got up close and personal with a sea urchin

"The biggest change will be the inclusion of the fantastic tropical experience," she said.

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Image caption Look out, it's behind you!

"The kids will be able to come along and find Dory and Nemo along with many other species from across the world.

Image caption New enclosures have been created for fish and other aquatic species at the centre

An outdoor otter enclosure has also been built.

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Image caption The County Down attraction reopened to the public on Monday

"We've got two lovely little otters which the kids can get up close and personal to and watch them getting fed," said Ms Moreland.

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Image caption This curious little otter is one of the attractions at the newly-opened facility

Exploris opened on the shores of Strangford Lough in 1987 and became a significant tourist draw in the Ards peninsula.

Image caption Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen said she was impressed by the revamped aquarium

Before its closure in November 2014, it attracted about 100,000 visitors every year.

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Image caption Sharks are among the marine life on display at the aquarium

The firm responsible for one of Belfast's top tourist attractions, the Crumlin Road Gaol, has been appointed by the council to run the aquarium on its behalf.

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Image caption A young girl makes friends with a sting ray

Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen visited Exploris last week and said she was impressed by the "high quality attraction it has now become".

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