Auckland aquarium Kelly Tarlton's has opened a new $1.6 million Sea Cave Adventure zone – its first new exhibit since 2017.
It draws inspiration from the marine creatures of the Hauraki Gulf, giving Aucklanders and tourists alike the chance to understand and appreciate the many animals which are becoming harder to find in their natural environments.
"We've got our packhorse lobsters which are functionally extinct out there, so it's really cool for our guests to be able to come and see," said Kelly Tarlton's display manager Kim Evans.
She says the exhibit gives people the opportunity to "fall in love" with creatures who desperately need protecting.
"A lot of our creatures are endangered or declining so what we really want to be doing here is inspiring guests to get to know what's out there."
The exhibit showcases the local experience in the most immersive way possible, allowing guests to get their hands wet touching sea stars, shells and sea urchins.
Department of Conservation rangers feature on interactive screens with educational messages, hoping to get more people interested in protecting the Hauraki Gulf marine park for future generations.
General manager of Sea Life Kelly Tarlton's, Dan Henderson, says the aquarium is as busy as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
"It's been really busy and great to see visitors come through," he said.
"What we're looking for is moments between parents and children that they may not be able to have in their busy lives."