Dolphin Marine Park offered a funding lifeline

COFFS Harbour's Dolphin Marine Conservation Park is spending $20,000 per week in wages on a skeleton team of carers and maintenance staff while feeding the park's animals 63kg of fish per day. 

For almost two months now the popular attraction has remained closed to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

For a marine conservation business that relies on tourists, it's a been a costly set of circumstances that were totally unforeseen in its budgeting. 

Today however, the Federal Government has offered zoos and aquariums a lifeline providing a $94.6 million support package to help these businesses pull through the pandemic. 

Dolphin Marine Conservation Park General Manager Terry Goodall welcomed the new support, announced locally this afternoon by Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan. 

"While we are quite a small park in comparison with the likes of Taronga Zoo in Sydney, our costs have continued during the pandemic and our revenue has fallen to zero for the last seven weeks," Mr Goodall said.

"And because we are a saltwater park, we have additional costs associated with pumping water from the creek, maintaining the considerable infrastructure required for that and testing the water up to four times per day to ensure the health of our dolphins and sea lions.

"This grant program is an absolute lifeline for our enterprise and I look forward to working with Austrade to apply for it," he said. 

A skeleton team of animal carers and maintenance staff have maintained the animals and facility during the closure.
A skeleton team of animal carers and maintenance staff have maintained the animals and facility during the closure.

Austrade will work with the Zoo and Aquarium Association to identify eligible members, as well as state and territory tourism organisations to identify non-members which may be eligible for financial assistance.

This initiative is part of the government's $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

"Our local zoos and aquariums provide huge positive flow-on effects to our local economy as they encourage visitors to town and to stay," Mr Conaghan said. 

"I called for this funding a number of weeks ago after I was contacted by Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbour and Billabong Zoo near Port Macquarie seeking help with their mounting costs and no money coming in.

"We need these tourist and cultural attractions to remain long after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed, so I thank Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham and Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley for providing this lifeline."

The support package will assist exhibiting zoos and aquariums with the fixed operational costs associated with the caring of their animals.

The Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia brokered the funding package with the Federal Government.
The Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia brokered the funding package with the Federal Government.

Australian zoos and aquariums welcome government relief for animal care

The Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia welcomed the announcement today to support zoos, wildlife parks, sanctuaries and aquariums during the Covid-19 response.

The assistance comes as a great relief to ZAA-accredited wildlife organisations around Australia, who have been maintaining the high costs of animal care without any visitor admission income for the last month, and who face continued uncertainty about when they can reopen their gates.

"The support announced by the Government today shows recognition of the importance of our zoos and aquariums, as businesses that contribute to conservation, community, education and tourism, and that maintaining our Australian standards for animal welfare, even during difficult times, is essential" Executive Director at the Zoo and Aquarium Association Nicola Craddock, said.

Funds from the support package will go towards the variety of costs associated with caring for exotic and native wildlife, many of which are threatened species.

ZAA-accredited zoos care for many animals that have specific and expensive requirements for their care.

In aquariums for instance, ongoing power is required 24/7 for water treatment, pumps, UV sterilisers, ozone generators and temperature control for the aquatic enclosures.

"In a zoo, a single lion can eat $265 of meat each week, feed and habitat maintenance costs $400 a week per koala, hay for elephants can be up to $2,000 per week and the ice production for penguins costs $90,000 per year," Ms Craddock said.

rehabilated Turtles at Dolphin Marine Conservation Park, Dr Duan March.. 22 MAY 2019
Dr Duan March of Dolphin Marine Conservation Park with rehabilitated green sea turtles. TREVOR VEALE

"That's just four of the approximately 2,500 species that ZAA-accredited zoos and aquariums care for.

"With these high fixed costs for animal care and welfare, this support will be a game-changer for helping ZAA's zoo and aquarium members and other wildlife exhibitors through the coronavirus pandemic.

Combined with the support the Federal Government's Job Keeper Program will provide to eligible organisations, this new support package will help to see zoos and aquariums through to play their part in Australia's recovery.

"The support will help ZAA and accredited zoos and wildlife parks to continue their crucial role in conservation, including their work helping native wildlife to recover from a devastating bushfire season," Ms Craddock said.

Beyond that, zoos and wildlife parks are supporting schools with remote education and, once restrictions lift, they stand to play a vital role in the mental well-being of Australian communities at a time when it will most certainly be needed.

Gates closed at Taronga Zoo.
Gates closed at Taronga Zoo.

"People will need public places where they can reconnect with nature, keep their children active and engaged and maintain appropriate physical distance in an outdoors venue with an abundance of space."  

"Thanks to today's announcement, we are more optimistic for zoos and aquariums to weather the storm, continue a high level of care for their animals and be there for our communities out the other side."

"This is tremendous news for our industry and all the animals that are under human care in zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks around Australia. This funding will go a long way toward helping us survive this pandemic and ensure we are able to maintain the best possible welfare for our animals.

Mr Goodall said: "My sincere thanks has to go to Nicola Craddock and her team at ZAA for their determined efforts in working with the government to achieve this funding."