Muscat: An OMR7.5 million aquarium at Seeb harbour, the first of its kind in Oman, will be the biggest ever 'Gift to The Nation' by Petroleum Development Oman (PDO).
The project will include an educational centre and will spread over around 17,000 square metres. It is expected to be complete in late 2015 or early 2016.
PDO's latest 'Gift to The Nation' was announced during a ceremony held under the auspices of Mohammed bin Hamad al Rumhy, minister of oil and gas, here on Wednesday.
During the event, PDO Managing Director Raoul Restucci signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) committing to the scheme with Fuad bin Jaafar al Sajwani, minister of agriculture and fisheries.
The company has a long tradition of marking every five years of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said's rule with such endowments. Other gifts include the Oil and Gas Exhibition Centre, Planetarium, the EcOman Centre, the Public Knowledge Library and the Traffic Safety Institute.
The aquarium project, which will mark the 45th anniversary of His Majesty's reign next year, includes a range of features such as specialised viewing tanks, interactive activities and guided tours.
Another central aspect of the building will be a research division for all fisheries studies by Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries staff, universities and other specialists.
PDO's largest Gift to the Nation investment will showcase the rich biodiversity, habitats and species found in the Sultanate's waters and aims to appeal to both international tourists and Omani citizens.
In a speech at the function, Restucci said, "The centre will focus on the Sultanate's marine ecosystems and ecology, the sustainability of these resources and how they can be safeguarded for the future. The aim is to stock many of the more than 1,000 species which are in Omani waters in an installation which will be interesting, fun and informative.
"One of the key aims is to enable children to experience and learn more about the country's maritime heritage, its rich marine environment and the importance of the sea to the nation. We aim to strike a good balance between entertainment and education."
Speaking to reporters, Restucci said that the company will start construction work as soon as possible.
The heavy construction phase will be in the first quarter of 2015 and the work can be completed in 12 to 15 months, he noted.
According to him, the vast majority of the area, around 80 per cent, will be covered by the aquarium.
Treasures of deep seas
Speaking to Times of Oman, Hamed Said Al Oufi, undersecretary of fisheries wealth, hailed the project as an important step towards exploring "the treasures of the deep seas".
The project will definitely create many job opportunities, he said, noting that a commercial and recreational facility will be built as part of the project.
There will be five sections in the aquarium: World of Oceans and Seas, Coastlines and Seas of Oman, Fishing and Maritime Heritage of Oman, PDO Marine History and Operations, and Oman Marine Life and Habitat.
The building is planned to have a cylindrical viewing tower finished with photovoltaic panels to provide some solar and wind-power energy to the complex. It will be set towards the north end of the reclaimed land at the Seeb marina, facing the proposed fish market. There will also be a restaurant with sea view, retail space and a car park.
Earlier this year, the company launched a high-level campaign with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Royal Oman Police Coast Guard to raise awareness among fishermen of the dangers of operating in and around the Mina Al Fahal Port area. It has also signed another MoU with the ministry covering the construction of a breakwater in Darsait and the rehabilitation of the coast at Aint.
In 2012, PDO paid for the deployment of 300 reef balls at sea to increase the size and diversity of fishermen's catches.