Durban - UShaka Marine World has, since it opened 10 years ago, contributed about R2 billion to the local GDP, board chairman De Villiers Botha said.
Almost 15 000 direct and indirect jobs had been created.
Many performing artists launched their careers at uShaka, Africa’s largest marine theme park, which boasts the largest aquarium in southern Africa.
Eighty-three staff members have worked at the municipality-owned attraction since it opened.
More than 12 million visitors – 1.5 million of them international – had passed through the gates of the award-winning venue, Botha told guests at the park’s 10th birthday celebrations in The Wreck Sea World Aquarium yesterday.
Despite many negative reports in the media that uShaka was a white elephant, the attraction had made a profit over the past six years, he said.
Botha praised the city fathers for their vision to commit R750 million to make uShaka Marine World a reality.
He said the greatest indication that “we are doing something right” is that visitors returned time and again.
“People don’t come back if they don’t enjoy themselves.”
He said 60 percent of visitors came with their families.
To keep them returning, R85m had been invested in new attractions since the park opened.
uShaka brought in Africa’s highest slide, the Drop Zone, in 2007 and then the Tornado Body Ride in 2012.
uShaka Kidz World boasted Africa’s biggest jungle gym, while the Dangerous Creatures exhibition – a Zanzibar warehouse populated by snakes, lizards, frogs and spiders – had been billed as one of the best reptile exhibits in the world.
uShaka continued to be a catalyst in the development of the Point Waterfront and had witnessed the transformation of the beachfront, Botha said.
uShaka had a bright future and there were some interesting plans for the next 10 years.
It was a regular destination for school tours. The park had welcomed one million children, who may never have seen a fish, let alone a ray, a jelly fish, a turtle or a shark.
Botha said one of uShaka’s core functions was marine conservation and without a marine heritagethere was no future for South Africa and the world.
Through uShaka and one of the world’s foremost marine research facilities – the South African Association for Marine Biological Research, which runs the aquarium – Durban was making an invaluable contribution to the future.
Council speaker Logie Naidoo said that despite naysayers’ negativity, uShaka had proved a viable institution once the capital outlay had been repaid.
“Even when we put marquees up for the sod-turning launch, people were writing to the papers to say: ‘We told you uShaka would not happen as the marquees have gone’.”
Chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry Andrew Layman said uShaka was a far cry from a white elephant: “It’s a magnificent facility, a great success and as dynamic as ever – and has an attendance of which we should be very proud.”
A 10th-birthday cake, showing the shipwreck aquarium and slides of the park’s Wet ’n Wild section, was made by Nick Dhallal and his bakers of Top Hat Bakery in Verulam. Divers Craig Smith and William Mlambo had cameras flashing when they held up a “Happy Birthday” sign inside a nearby fish tank.