Icons of the Great Barrier Reef Launch at Cairns Airport

Hand-made, life-like sculptures of four iconic species of the Great Barrier Reef – that also feature at the Cairns Aquarium – have been installed at Cairns Airport as a welcome feature to an expected more than 2million tourists per year that are soon to return to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef now that domestic and international borders have re-opened.

The work is the brainchild of the Cairns Aquarium in association with Cairns Airport and Tourism Tropical North Queensland. The larger than life-size sculptures of a clown anemonefish, grey reef shark, green sea turtle and humphead Maori wrasse now feature on the entrances and exits to the luggage carousels in the Domestic Arrivals area.

They have been installed to draw attention and educate visitors about the incredible diversity of marine life which visitors can see while in Cairns.

Cairns Aquarium CEO and project lead Daniel Leipnik said he was inspired to create the works of art to provide visitors to the airport with a glimpse of what the region has to offer within the city’s very own aquarium as well as out on the Reef itself.

“Life on the Reef is extraordinary and we want to give visitors a chance to take a memorable photo as soon as they arrive,” he said.

“As Cairns leading educational facility for Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics habitats and species, the new airport display lets us present four particular species unique to the Great Barrier Reef which are also among the favourite animals that people come to see and learn about at the Cairns Aquarium.”

“We’ve just made them larger than life. Ten times the actual size, in reality.”

“The project is all about having fun while learning about reef life. Getting kids and families excited about their holiday to Cairns as soon as they hop off the plane and letting them take quite a remarkable photo is a great holiday starter.”

“What better way to start a holiday than having your photo taken with a giant sea turtle or colourful nemo behind you for that perfect instagram post”.

The eye-catching installation includes a full wall of educational material and images about each species.

The icons of the Great Barrier Reef project is part of the celebration the Cairns Aquarium and Cairns Airport are experiencing with interstate and soon international travel resuming to Cairns.

“Cairns is one of the most incredible holiday spots for ecotourism adventures and experiences,” Mr Leipnik said.

With a world class aquarium just minutes from the airport, the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforest at our doorstep, this fun and interactive display is our way of welcoming visitors to the amazing tropical north.

“We’ve already had great feedback from visitors. Every child is instantly drawn to the sculptures, with the nemo clownfish and green sea turtle standout favourites.”

Cairns Airport CEO Richard Barker quickly embraced the project.

“Two metre-high fish replicas on our luggage belts, now that’s unique for any airport,” he said.

“Cairns Airport has been working hard to set itself apart from other airports by making sure visitors feel welcomed, relaxed and excited as soon as they arrive.

“We call this form of nature-based enhancement ‘sense of place’ and it’s all about connecting our visitors to the magic of the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef and Rainforests of Tropical North Queensland upon arrival.”

Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen said holidays begin as soon as you touch down at a destination making it important to delight travellers when they arrive.

“Visitors can now learn about iconic Great Barrier Reef species while waiting for their bags and start thinking about how they might see these species in real life during their Tropical North Queensland holiday,” he said.

“Whether it’s introducing the kids to Nemo at the Cairns Aquarium, snorkelling with turtles at an island or diving alongside a humphead Maori wrasse at an outer reef pontoon, there is a Great Barrier Reef experience to suit everyone.”

The sculptures were hand crafted in Australia for this project and took 3 months to complete.

“This was a really specialised job. All aspects had to be created from photos of actual fish and animals at the Cairns Aquarium and then scaled up,” Leipnik said.

“We had to think about designing the finished sculptures to look authentic but fit around specific shape and functionality requirements where the luggage enters and exits on the carousels.”

“The process involved multiple stages including concept design, maquettes (miniature versions of the final works), full scale sculpture, mould making in clay and then fibreglass, reproducing casts in fibreglass and then air brush spraying the completed works.”

“Showcasing icons of the Great Barrier Reef is a world first project and we’re so excited for arriving visitors to see these”, Barker concluded.

GBR animals