Underwater World Singapore

Singapore Infopedia


Underwater World Singapore (UWS) was an oceanarium located at 80 Siloso Road on the island of Sentosa. Considered Asia’s largest tropical oceanarium when it opened in 1991, UWS was one of Singapore’s popular tourist attractions.1 Its key features included the Dolphin Lagoon housing endangered pink Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins,2 and an 80-metre moving walkway through an observation tunnel offering a panoramic view of the oceanarium’s marine creatures and corals.3

The idea of an oceanarium or marine park was proposed as early as 1978, when the operators of Ocean Park in Hong Kong submitted a proposal to the Ministry of National Development (MND) to build an oceanarium where visitors could observe marine animals in their natural habitat.4

Although the idea was not taken up, the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) became interested in building an oceanarium as part of plans to attract more visitors to Sentosa. At the time, the only similar attraction in Singapore was Van Kleef Aquarium (VKA). A request to relocate VKA was raised to the MND in 1981.5

In August 1983, the SDC invited proposals for an oceanarium to be built on a three-hectare site on Sentosa.6 Subsequently, the government established a joint venture with Underwater World International (a subsidiary of the Western Australia Development Corporation) and New Zealand company, Marinescape Corporation, to build and operate the new attraction.7

The oceanarium project was introduced in 1988, with a scheduled date of completion of 1989.8 Costing over S$20 million, UWS finally opened its doors on 13 May 1991.9 The planning and construction of the oceanarium had taken more than two years and the opening was to coincide with the nation’s silver jubilee.10 The new attraction was an immediate hit with visitors to Singapore as well as residents, drawing an average of 3,000 visitors on weekdays and 8,000 on weekends.11 It welcomed its millionth visitor in December 1991.12 The opening of UWS caused visitorship to VKA to fall significantly, and the latter closed by the end of May 1991.13

Attractions and features
UWS showcased 2,500 specimens of marine life from 250 species, drawn from around the region.14

Oceanarium exhibits
The main attraction was a moving walkway enclosed by an 80-metre underwater tunnel. Made of acrylic panes measuring 6 cm in thickness, the tunnel meandered through an enormous tank holding a variety of marine species in over 3 million litres of filtered sea water. From the moving walkway, visitors had a close-up view of the oceanarium’s marine life.15

The tank held creatures like sharks, stingrays and groupers that were native to the waters off Indonesia, the Maldives and the South China Sea.16 Most of them were acquired from farms in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and the Maldives, while some, such as sharks, were captured by the oceanarium’s divers or bought from local fishermen.17 The oceanarium also added to its collection by rescuing wildlife in the waters around Singapore, such as a baby dugong found off Pulau Ubin in 1998.18

Dolphin lagoon
The Dolphin Lagoon, another key attraction, was first launched in 1999 and was originally located at Central Beach.19 After the lease expired in 2009, a new dolphin lagoon was built next to the oceanarium and opened on 2 July 2010.20

Interactive activities

Also popular were an interactive pool where visitors could touch starfishes, baby turtles, hermit crabs and corals; and a rock pool containing clownfish and mudskippers.21

Education and conservation
UWS had established itself as an educational hub on marine life since its opening in 1991. Its workshops, talks and worksheets were well received by schools and teachers.22

“Living in the Ocean”, an overnight camp at the oceanarium, was introduced in an effort to share more about the oceans and marine wildlife. One of the camp highlights was the opportunity to sleep under the aquarium’s tunnel, right beneath the sea creatures.23

Aside from being a showcase for marine life, UWS was also a breeding ground for various marine species. Shortly before its opening, for instance, one of its leopard sharks had laid a batch of eggs.24 In 1992, the oceanarium’s first baby stingray was born.25 The pink dolphins, added to the Dolphin Lagoon in 1999, produced the world’s first pink dolphin calf to be born in captivity three years later,26 followed by a second calf in 2008.27 In 2009, the oceanarium introduced a shark nursery to showcase its success in breeding several shark species, such as bamboo and leopard sharks.28

UWS was also active in marine conservation efforts through educational exhibitions and outreach programmes to raise public awareness, as well as conservation projects with partner institutions. It funded a coral rescue project in 1997 to save coral reefs threatened by the effects of reclamation and dredging. Corals were transplanted from Pulau Seringat to a site off Sentosa.29 In 2004, it collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund on a coral conservation exhibition, and partnered the Tropical Marine Science Institute in a project to rear endangered seahorses for release into Singapore’s coastal waters.30

In 2007, the oceanarium introduced Radio Frequency Identification tagging for seven species of fish in its Living Fossils exhibition. Besides allowing the fishes to be identified and tracked more efficiently, this system also educated visitors in a more interactive way.31

In 1992, three Singaporeans – property developers Leslie Tan Chwee Lye, Jerry Tan Chwee Lee and Tan Chwee Chye – bought UWS for S$25 million.32

In 1995, Singapore company Haw Par Corporation (formerly known as Haw Par Brothers International) acquired a 54.31 percent stake in UWS for S$56 million. Four years later, it bought the remaining 45.69 percent stake for S$32 million.33 UWS was a wholly owned subsidiary of Haw Par Corporation,34 which also owns Underwater World Pattaya in Thailand (opened in 2003) and Chengdu Haw Par Oceanarium in Sichuan, China (opened in 2010).35

On 6 June 2016, UWS announced its impending closure by the end of the month. During the last month of the aquarium’s operation, ticket prices were lowered to those charged when it first opened in 1991 – S$9 for adults (from S$29.90) and S$5 for children (from S$20.90). The news of its closure evoked a wave of nostalgia for the 25-year-old aquarium, attracting many to visit it for the last time before its closure. A total of 8,500 visitors were recorded for its last day of operation on 26 June 2016, five times more than the average daily visitorship.36


Joanna HS Tan

1. “Underwater World,” Straits Times, 20 October 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Underwater World Singapore, Underwater: A Newsletter of Underwater World Singapore (1999). (Call no. RSING 333.784095957 U)
3. “Underwater World Scores with Range of Marine Life,” Straits Times, 14 May 1991, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Ahmad Osman, “Under Study: Plan to Build an Oceanarium,” Straits Times, 4 November 1978, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Sentosa Wants Van Kleef,” New Nation, 26 March 1981, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Pier Andrews, “Underwater Fantasy,” Straits Times, 18 December 1987, 1; Ng Weng Hoong, “Coming Live to Sentosa: Whales and Sharks,” Straits Times, 23 August 1983, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Jacqueline Wong, “Planned Oceanarium ‘Will Be Top Tourist Draw’,” Straits Times, 6 October 1988, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Hong Lee Tiam, “Underwater World S’pore Up for Sale,” Business Times, 6 April 1991, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Underwater World Scores.”
10. “Sentosa’s Oceanarium to Open in June,” Straits Times, 3 March 1990, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Yap Koon Hong, “Sharp Rise in Number of Visitors to Sentosa,” Straits Times, 31 July 1991, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “The Millionth Visitor and a Fish Called Jamie,” Straits Times, 14 December 1991, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Siow Yu-Ming, “Van Kleef Aquarium to Close from Saturday,” Straits Times, 28 May 1991, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Jessica Leow, “Spotlight,” New Paper, 23 April 1998, 9 (From NewspaperSG); “Underwater World Scores.”
15. “Underwater World Scores.”
16. Ovidia Lim, “Eyeball a Shark and Live,” New Paper, 11 May 1991, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Sharon Loh, “Fruitless Shark Hunt for Underwater World,” Straits Times, 17 June 1991, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Underwater World Singapore, Underwater, 3.
19. Underwater World Singapore, Underwater.
20. “Sentosa’s Dolphin Lagoon Relocates to Underwater World,” Channel NewsAsia, 2 July 2010. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
21. “Underwater World Scores.”
22. “Teachers Welcome Offer from Underwater World,” Straits Times, 29 October 1991, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Home,” Straits Times, 28 October 2002, 2 (From NewspaperSG); “Living in the Ocean,” Underwater World Singapore, accessed 2012.
24. “Underwater World Scores.”
25. “Unknown,” Straits Times, 31 August 1992, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Sentosa’s Newest Star in the Pink,” Straits Times, 4 June 2003, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Sentosa’s Dolphin Lagoon relocates to Underwater World.”
28. Victoria Vaughan, “Go On, Feed the Sharks, They’re Babes,” Straits Times, 25 November 2009, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Dominic Nathan, “Oil Can Stay in Water for Weeks,” Straits Times, 22 October 1997, 37. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Seahorses Now an Endangered, Protected Species,” Today, 7 May 2004, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Melissa Tan, “Fish with Chips a Hit at Underwater World,” Straits Times, 23 May 2007, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Underwater World May Go to Local Property Firm,” Straits Times, 6 July 1992, 17; “Oceanarium Sold,” New Paper, 31 August 1992, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Haw Par Leisure to Fork Out $56M for Company,” Straits Times, 10 June 1995, 47; Colin Tan, “Haw Par Has Full Control of Underwater World,” Straits Times, 16 January 1999, 75. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Tan, “Haw Par Has Full Control of Underwater World.” 
35. “Haw Par Corporation Limited – History,” GlobalData Company Profiles, 4 May 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
36. Chew Hui Min and Trina Anne Khoo, “Underwater World to Close Its Doors on June 26,” Straits Times, 7 June 2016; Lin Yangchen and Rachel Oh, “Sea of Visitors at Underwater World before Its Closure,” Straits Times, 8 June 2016; Melissa Lin, “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish,” Straits Times, 27 June 2016, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 4 July 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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