The rumble of heavy machinery and the crash of falling bricks heralded the long-awaited start of the transformation of Nelson Mandela Bay’s iconic Bayworld into a world-class tourism, leisure and edutainment destination, on Monday morning, 27 November 2023.
The old tropical tank and part of the predator tank of the former oceanarium are set to be demolished over the next week, as the first “humble step” towards a green, multi-use precinct stretching over 55 hectares from the old rugby stadium to the sea – encompassing 13 catalytic projects worth over R6 billion, Mandela Bay Development Agency CEO, Anele Qaba, said.
The first of these projects will be a state-of-the-art aquarium and marine science centre, replacing the old oceanarium and dubbed “The Sanctuary”, for which the MBDA is currently seeking proposals and funding in partnership with Bayworld. “The overall aim is to create a ‘green’ development to conserve and promote the region’s unique biodiversity and cultural heritage, featuring green spaces and eco-friendly and adventure activities in a safe and diversified destination for locals and tourists,” Qaba added.
At the core will be the revamped Bayworld as a modern edutainment facility, including the museum along with a digital dome, hologram circus, interactive aquarium, sea-life sanctuary and recreational water park. The MBDA is managing the project in close collaboration with Bayworld, the NMB Municipality and the Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture. Bayworld is operated by the provincial government, while the land is owned by the municipality. Qaba concluded that this “tight partnership” among state institutions was critical to the success of the project, which aims to deliver a “game-changing catalytic project, big enough to turn around the economy of the city”.
NMB Executive Mayor Gary van Niekerk, who symbolically “pushed the button” to commence the demolition, welcomed the start of the project and said he trusted in the MBDA to execute the plans to transform Bayworld and the surrounding precinct. “If you want to make sure something gets done, and in the timeframe promised, give it to the MBDA. They know how to execute. “It is important that we restore and transform this facility that has already served generations of children, me included, at the rate of 100 000 schoolchildren visiting per year. We need this as a building block of child development and environmental awareness, and a star attraction on this prime beachfront land.
“The whole of the Bay, residents and visitors, will be watching to see what unfolds here and that it is a worthy asset for the metro,” Van Niekerk said.
MBDA Board member Pinky Kondlo welcomed the start of demolition as “both a historic and futuristic milestone. Our vision is premised on facilitating a world-class ocean city, and this brings us closer to that. The facility demonstrates the economic, social and spatial elements that must come together to make it beneficial to the people of the metro,” Kondlo said. The initial demolition is targeting structures that have already been condemned. This will create an entranceway from Beach Road for demolition and heavy equipment to access the oceanarium, dolphin pool, grandstand and adjacent structures from January to approximately March next year.
“The museum will remain open, and the approximately 65 resident penguins and nine seals will be temporarily relocated before work begins in January, to a newly constructed facility behind the museum complex, along with any sea turtles, seals and other sea-life undergoing rehabilitation,” says Bayworld aquarium expert Dr Dylan Bailey.
Bailey leads the Bayworld specialist team working closely with the project team to ensure the health and safety of the animals throughout the project. He said the “safe haven” for Bayworld’s animals during the demolition had been built to meet international standards and local regulations and best practice and had been designed with greater capacity for rehabilitating sea animals than the oceanarium currently had. Water quality will be maintained to the same quality as that of the current oceanarium, with a full saltwater filtration and sand separation plant on the temporary site, while oceanarium staff will manage the facility.
Following the demolition, the flattened area will be levelled to natural ground level and landscaped so that it can be used for outdoor visitor engagement, learning and events such as building art pieces from recycled marine waste. The animals will be returned to their pools for public viewing. Environmental authorisation for the scope of the demolition work has been granted by the provincial Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT), through a submission prepared by CEN Integrated Environmental Management. A Heritage Impact Analysis was commissioned through SVA Architects and permission obtained from the Eastern Cape Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (ECPHRA), and the NMBM has issued the demolition permit. While demolition and landscaping are under way, the MBDA will continue researching the design and operating model, and seeking funding, for the new aquarium.
The revitalisation of Bayworld forms the centrepiece of the envisaged 55ha green development, which also incorporates Happy Valley and the envisaged International Convention Centre along with mixed commercial and residential development of the old EP Rugby land. The MBDA is hosting an online stakeholder engagement session on Wednesday, 29 November, in which the public are invited to share their views and ideas on plans for an adventure park and nature reserve in Happy Valley. The session will take place online (via Microsoft Teams) from 10am to 12:30pm. To RSVP and receive the meeting link, e-mail [email protected] or register at https://www.mbdaengage.co.za/bayworld-rsvp-form.