I had been a little skeptical about the planned Cairns aquarium until the purchase of land was announced. It now seems to be proceeding quickly and is a step closer to reality with the Cairns Post carrying a story today saying that expressions of interest for the design of the aquarium are due next week. The successful bid will be announced at the end of the month.
I'm hoping that the eventual design isn't overly reef focused. The first argument for this is that most tourists will be heading out to see the Reef itself, and I think many will think a reef aquarium isn't a justifiable expense after that. Another important reason is that the Cairns aquarium needs to distinguish itself from Townsville's Reef HQ, which is very much Reef focused. They have a couple of smallish exhibits for freshwater and mangrove habitats, but they are almost an afterthought.
Past Cairns Post stories about the planned Cairns Aquariums have included comments about a mangrove habitat, and a large "See the stuff crocodiles stop you from snorkelling in" exhibit would be nice to see. Big barramundi, saratoga and sawfish should be on display. A crocodile exhibit with underwater viewing should be included separately - and not with a piddly 2-foot crocodile like Townsville's.
The number one choice for an exhibit for me, however, would be one of our least commonly seen creatures - dugongs. At present the Sydney Aquarium has the only dugong exhibit in Australia. Let's hope Cairns gets a bigger and better dugong exhibit than Sydney. It would certainly set our aquarium apart from Reef HQ.