The UK’s largest aquarium has overspent by nearly £3m over the last five years, accounts show.
The National Marine Aquarium’s (NMA) financial situation has been revealed after it shed up to 15 of its 104 staff last year to cut costs.
In 2016 the Plymouth attraction said it was hoping for 400,000 annual visitors by 2020, but it risks falling short, with 280,000 in 2018.
The NMA said it was now “hopeful” for 320,000 annual visitors by 2022.
Its visitor target has slipped every year since 2016, so that in 2017 its aim was for “in excess of 350,000 by 2022” and it 2018 it was hoping for the same number, but by 2023.
Visitor numbers hit 302,000 in 2014, but since then they have hovered at about 280,000.
The NMA’s main income from donations raised more than £1.75m last year, with another £1.48m from ticket sales and sales from the cafe and gift shop.
But in each year from 2014 to 2018 the NMA’s spending exceeded income – to a total of £2.7m, the latest available accounts from the Charity Commission show. The smallest margin between expenditure and income was £322,000 in 2016 and the largest gap £632,000 in 2014.
National Marine Aquarium – what’s in there?
- Atlantic Ocean tank: Moon jellies and Upside-down jellyfish, Lemon Shark, Sand Tiger Sharks, Nurse Sharks, Sandbar Sharks, Southern Stingrays, Eagle Rays, Barracuda, Green Turtle. Tank volume: 2.5m litres
- Great Barrier Reef tank: Features more than 50 species of tropical fish. Tank volume: 650,000 litres.
- British Coasts tank: Featuring Stone Bass, Pollock, Conger Eels, Mullet, Cat Sharks, Smooth Hound Sharks and more. Tank volume: 500,000 litres
- Plymouth Sound: Featuring; Boarfish, Common Octopus, starfish, gobies, blennies, Weaver Fish and more
An spokesman for the NMA, which opened in 1998, said visitor numbers were “lower than hoped” in 2018 and it had been hit by “last year’s unprecedented warm weather” and the closure of Sutton Harbour Bridge which connected the NMA to the bustling Barbican area of the city.
This year was “off to a strong start” and aquarium staff were “working hard to continue increasing both income and visitor numbers” with extra activities.
Last year more than 26,000 schoolchildren visited the NMA, which also takes its message of conservation into schools with visits from its experts.
It has also branched out into activities such as Valentine’s dinners in front of its displays and “sleeping with sharks” sleepovers.