Reef HQ capital works project, Australia

Upgrading the world’s largest aquarium to a world class tourist destination

Built in 1987, the Reef HQ Aquarium houses the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium system, the Coral Reef Exhibit (CRE), a 2 million-litre living coral reef exhibition designed to replicate an inshore reef on land. After 35 years in a harsh tropical climate, the building requires extensive work.

Key information

Date started:
Completion date:
Client type:
Real estate
Main services:
programme management, project management

A new marine facility

Climate change is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef, with warmer ocean temperatures putting stress on coral and leading to coral bleaching.

Part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef HQ Aquarium was opened to create the world’s largest living example of a coral reef on land; a place to showcase science and deliver education about marine science, heritage and other reef values. It is the National Education Centre for the Great Barrier Reef.

The tropical environment and stress that has resulted from holding in excess of 4 million litres of salt water has impacted the facility since its build. To bring the building up to current standards, it requires extensive refurbishment and structural work.

The most challenging aspect of the project is the replacement of the aquarium’s public viewing panels while keeping the aquarium full of water with living coral, fish and predators.

A collaborative design

We were appointed to act as the client’s representative and given overarching responsibility for managing the whole project from initiation through the concept, schematic and detailed design phases to construction and closing out.

We are currently at the schematic design stage and are working with the contractor to produce a design within the client’s target cost of $80.1m.  

A key part of the project has been the consultation process with the Reef’s Traditional Owners to co-design some exhibits within the facility.

The design will better facilitate the connection of sea country exhibitions, to gain cultural knowledge, and promote Indigenous heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

Building the reef's resilience

The new aquarium will enable people to learn more about the traditional owners of the land, the Gurambilbarra Wulgurukaba people, and their connection to the reef.

There will also be a focus on what makes the reef great and why we should care for it, what work is being done to build the reef's resilience to major threats, such as climate change, coastal development, land-based run-off, and threats from direct human use, and a rejuvenated Turtle Hospital to demonstrate conservation efforts more readily.

A new Reef STEM Hub will be established, which is likely to include career pathway and traineeship programmes, hands-on experiential learning areas and advanced coral propagation facilities, as well as increased sustainability measures and enhanced technology to support learning throughout the new exhibits.

For further information contact:

Janai Le Blowitz
Document Controller