Underwater World Singapore
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Underwater World Singapore is an oceanarium located at 80 Siloso Road on the island of Sentosa. Its key features include the Dolphin Lagoon housing endangered pink Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, as well as an 83m moving walkway enclosed by an observation tunnel with surrounding views of the oceanarium’s collection of marine creatures and corals. Considered Asia’s largest tropical oceanarium when it opened in 1991, Underwater World is one of Singapore’s most popular tourist attractions.
The idea of an oceanarium or marine park was proposed as early as 1978, when the operators of Ocean Park in Hong Kong submitted a proposal to the Singapore government to build an oceanarium where visitors could observe marine animals in their natural habitat.
Although the idea was not taken up, in the early 1980s the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) became interested in building an oceanarium as part of plans to attract more visitors to Sentosa. At the time, the only similar attraction in Singapore was the Van Kleef Aquarium.
In August 1983, the SDC invited proposals for an oceanarium to be built on a 3ha site on Sentosa. Subsequently, the Singapore government established a joint venture with Underwater World International (UWI), a subsidiary of the Western Australia Development Corporation, and New Zealand company Marinescape Corporation to build and operate the new attraction.
Costing an estimated S$20 million, Underwater World took two years to build and opened on 13 May 1991. The oceanarium was an immediate hit with visitors to Singapore as well as residents. It drew more than 200,000 visitors in the month following its opening, and welcomed its millionth visitor in 1992. The opening of Underwater World caused visitorship to the Van Kleef Aquarium to fall significantly, and the latter closed by the end of May 1991.
Underwater World features 2,500 specimens of marine life from 250 species drawn from around the region. Exhibits include an interactive pool where visitors can touch starfishes, baby turtles, hermit crabs and corals; and a rock pool containing clown fish and mudskippers. The building also has a 150-seat theatrette that runs short films on marine conservation.
The main attraction is a moving walkway enclosed by an 83m underwater tunnel. Made of acrylic panes 6cm thick, the tunnel runs through an enormous tank holding a variety of marine species in over 3 million litres of filtered sea water. From the moving walkway, visitors have a close-up view of the oceanarium’s marine life and can watch divers in the tank feed the sea creatures at set feeding times.
The tank holds marine creatures like sharks, stingrays and groupers that are native to the waters off Indonesia, the Maldives and the South China Sea. Most of the creatures were acquired from farms in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and the Maldives, while some such as sharks were captured by the oceanarium’s divers or bought from local fishermen. The oceanarium has also added to its collection by rescuing wildlife found in the waters around Singapore, such as a baby dugong found off Pulau Ubin in 1998.
The Dolphin Lagoon, another key attraction at Underwater World, was first launched in 1999 and was originally located a short distance away at Palawan Beach (then called Central Beach). After the lease at Palawan Beach expired in 2009, a new S$10.5 million Dolphin Lagoon was built next to the oceanarium and opened on 2 July 2010.
Aside from being a showcase for marine life, Underwater World is also a breeding ground for various marine species. Shortly before its opening, one of its leopard sharks laid a batch of eggs. In 1992, the oceanarium’s first baby stingray was born. The pink dolphins added to the Dolphin Lagoon in 1999 produced the world’s first pink dolphin calf to be born in captivity three years later, followed by a second calf in 2008. In 2009, the oceanarium introduced a shark nursery to showcase its success in breeding several shark species such as bamboo and leopard sharks.
Underwater World has also been active in marine conservation efforts through educational exhibitions and outreach programmes to raise public awareness, and conservation projects with partner institutions. It funded a coral rescue project in 1997 to transplant some corals from nearby Pulau Seringat to a site off Sentosa. In 2004, it collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund on a coral conservation exhibition, and partnered the Tropical Marine Science Institute in a project to rear endangered seahorses for release into Singapore’s coastal waters. Underwater World also sponsored the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve’s Marine Fish Programme in 2005 to help students learn more about marine conservation.
In 2007, the oceanarium introduced RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tagging for seven species of fish in its Living Fossils exhibit to identify and track them better, as well as to educate visitors in a more interactive way.
In 1992, three Singaporeans, property developers Leslie Tan Chwee Lye, Jerry Tan Chwee Lee and Tan Chwee Chye bought over Underwater World for S$25 million.
In 1995, Singapore company Haw Par Corporation (formerly known as Haw Par Brothers International) acquired a 54.31% stake in Underwater World for S$56 million. Four years later, it bought the remaining 45.69% stake for S$32 million.
Underwater World Singapore is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Haw Par Corporation, which also owns Underwater World Pattaya in Thailand (opened in 2003) and Chengdu Haw Par Oceanarium in Sichuan, China (opened in 2010).
Joanna HS Tan
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The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.