SOUTHEND seafront’s Sealife Adventure is celebrating as it marks three decades of welcoming families through its doors.
The thriving attraction first opened its doors to the public in the summer of 1993 - immediately proving a huge hit with Southend residents and those further afield, and has been a premium attraction ever since.
On June 9 of that year, TV presenter Anthea Turner, 63, best known for hosting BBC’s Blue Peter and ITV’s breakfast news programme GMTV, officially opened what was then named Sea Life Centre.
During the nineties and into the early 2000s, the crowd-puller was run by British leisure firm Merlin Entertainments, which owns the likes of Madame Tussauds and Legoland Windsor.
As soon as guests walked through the doors, they were immersed into the world of marine life, where colourful tropical fish darted through the crystal blue water and around the coral, sharks slowly passed overhead as seekers walked slowly through the clear underwater tunnel, and crabs rested on the gravelly bed.
But as 2001 arrived, the then-aquarium was lacking in investment.
A stones’ throw away is the thriving amusement park Adventure Island, owned by the Miller family and their business Stockvale.
In stepped Philip Miller MBE, who didn’t hesitate to snap up the centre and bring it under the Stockvale banner.
Speaking about why he purchased the attraction, Mr Miller said: “It was cheap!
“The previous owners were in trouble and did not want to keep going with a loss-making business.”
Since the takeover the venue has undergone a major overhaul, with the addition of land-living animals, including penguins, monkeys and meerkats, which now brands itself as a Zooquarium.
Guests can still lose themselves in the depths of the living seas, but can also explore land-based species, and even travel back in time to experience life in the Jurassic era when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Recently, Sealife Adventure has given visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the furry meerkats and welcomed Asian short-clawed otters.
Interactive feeds - and the friendly team - are on hand to provide insights to the creatures.
On the secret to success, Mr Miller simply said that if you give people what they want, they will support you.
For Leigh resident and mum-of-seven Carolyne Goodall, the attraction is “quite ideal”.
She said: “We use it quite a lot. It’s not too big, it’s nice for smaller children, and it’s not too overly expensive.
“My grandchildren love it all. She had a membership because she really enjoys it.
“The next one would be in London, so it’s quite ideal.”
This Friday, the Zooquarium will be decked out with decorations, stickers and surprises to celebrate 30 years.
As a part of the special occasion, over £180,000 has been invested to give the main ocean tank a total revamp.
For Mr Miller, it is the continuous reinventing of the offer yearly that is the biggest achievement over the last 30 years.
Looking ahead to the future, he added: “Who knows what’s around the corner it’s taken us 30 years to get this far!”