06 September 2023

Exciting plans for Aquarium to net benefits for Macduff as Levelling Up project progresses

Exciting plans for extension and upgrade to the North-East’s award-winning Macduff Marine Aquarium have been released, with a striking design inspired by the coastal location and Macduff’s rich shipbuilding heritage.

Earlier this year Aberdeenshire Council announced its successful bid for the UK Government’s Levelling Up funds for development of cultural and heritage opportunities in Macduff and Peterhead.

A total of 10 projects in Scotland were allocated more than £177 million from round two of the Levelling Up Fund which will enable projects to create jobs, drive economic growth, help restore people’s pride in the places where they live and spread opportunity more equally.

The “Cultural Tides: North Sea Connections in Aberdeenshire” project will focus on the renovation and extension of Macduff Marine Aquarium and the development of a cultural quarter in Peterhead centred around the vacant Arbuthnot House. The project for Macduff Marine Aquarium – operated by Live Life Aberdeenshire – is underway and the plans for the popular visitor attraction have now been revealed.

To realise its potential and improve the visitor experience and dwell time, the distinctive round aquarium building will be expanded to accommodate increased display and activity space and a café-restaurant.

The building will have a second storey added to create a café/restaurant with magnificent views to the Moray Firth and inside to the central kelp tank. External viewing decks will provide great vantage points for wildlife spotting, while a café/restaurant will be run separately from the aquarium, offering a business opportunity for a hospitality provider.

Inside, the central tank, general layout and displays will remain, but the exhibits will be upgraded and include exciting new experiential features and interpretation. The visitor experience will feel fresh and innovative, whilst maintaining the aquarium’s essential elements that have been so enduringly popular.

Education and conservation are at the heart of the aquarium’s operations and the expansion will provide space for a lobster hatchery and a dedicated learning room to allow hands on activities and events for learners of all ages. The lobster hatchery will see lobster larvae being grown for release into the wild to boost wild populations, be a focus of interest and support the lobster fishery in years to come.

Macduff Marine Aquarium has been operated by Aberdeenshire Council for over 25 years and welcomes around 50,000 visitors per year, contributing significantly to the local area’s economy and tourism offer. It highlights native marine life and the central tank design and local exhibits create a one-of-a-kind experience within the UK.

Building on its success with investment in the attraction has long been part of the regeneration strategy for Macduff and the Levelling Up fund has presented a unique opportunity for the aquarium, Macduff and the area.

The public are being encouraged to find out more about the project and get involved at forthcoming community events in Macduff and Banff – the first of which is from 5-7pm on Tuesday, September 12 at the aquarium.

An engagement survey is now live with a wealth of supporting information and images at

The proposals will go through the planning processes in the autumn and it’s anticipated that the works will start next year.

Craig Matheson, Aberdeenshire Council’s principal architect who is heading up the design team for the project, said: “The extension design is influenced by the aquarium’s context near to the harbour and engages the building with its coastal setting and sea views, creating an exciting first impression for visitors as they arrive. The surrounding area will be landscaped to improve biodiversity and encourage people to use the space with children’s activities, whilst the proposals will be mindful of nearby residential properties. The building will be upgraded to meet modern standards for energy efficiency and sustainability.

“It is an interesting challenge to design around the aquarium’s central display tank and collection of marine animals that will be maintained throughout, but we are confident that the design successfully combines the existing building with the bold new frontage.”

Following a recent visit to the aquarium to see progress on the project, Levelling up Secretary Michael Gove said: “UK Government money for Macduff Aquarium will help expand the site and allow more families and visitors to see the wonderful marine life. It was great to see how levelling up funding will help increase tourism, deliver jobs and provide better facilities for the whole community to enjoy.”

Council Leader Cllr Gillian Owen said: “Investment in the aquarium and its immediate surroundings will be a real driver for economic growth, helping to re-energise the town and contribute positively to the local economy and community. Through the Levelling Up funding we will be able to enhance, develop and future-proof our tourist and cultural offerings in the north of the region which will have tremendous benefits for the wider economy of Aberdeenshire.”

Deputy Leader and chair of the council’s Communities Committee, Cllr Anne Stirling, added: “Macduff Marine Aquarium is a much-loved visitor attraction operated by Live Life Aberdeenshire and this project will enable us to sensitively develop the facility while maintaining its charm, expand upon its important educational role and really develop the aquarium’s full potential. I would encourage our local communities to engage with us provide their views and suggestions as we go through the planning process.”