Regional WA’s biggest tourist attraction proposed since 2014 is at risk of sinking as construction costs surge because of COVID-19. The Australian Underwater Discovery Centre, planned to be built at the end of the Busselton Jetty, faces a construction cost blowout of 50 per cent, with another $20 million needed for it to come to fruition. Like many other major construction projects across the country, the observatory has been at the mercy of an overloaded construction market, experiencing a 63 per cent increase in material costs, a 280 per cent increase in shipping costs and a 40 per cent increase in labour costs. Now Busselton Jetty Inc, the not-for-profit running the jetty, is frantically seeking a $20m solution before its funding deadline to ensure the project goes ahead. The devastating news comes as the South West continues to reel from the ongoing impact of border closures on the tourism industry, with only 50 to 60 per cent of pre-COVID capacities being reached. Jetty chief executive Lisa Shreeve said unless further funding was sourced the project would be shelved and about 250 construction jobs would be lost, as well as vital marine science research. “The light at the end of our COVID tunnel has been that we had secured $32m to build a new bigger Australian Underwater Discover Centre that would become a bucket-list location,” she said. “However, thanks to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, the whole project is now in jeopardy including our wonderful marine science research work which is also funded from ticket sales. “If we could delay the project we would, in the hope that the construction market cools down, however, our grant funding relies on the AUDC Cetacean being built by June 2023 which just doesn’t give us any room to move.” Last month, Ms Shreeve said if funding couldn’t be sought there was a risk jetty ticket prices could increase from $30 to $100 a person, an unreasonable increase, she said. The board is now seeking interest and support from corporates and individuals to sponsor or invest in the project, partnering in marine research, public engagement or tourism recovery. Set to be the largest underwater marine observatory and one of only six natural aquariums in the world, injecting more than $1 billion into the WA economy, the observatory proposal is the largest regional tourist attraction since the fully State and Federal-funded $10.6m Albany National Anzac Centre built in 2014. So far the State Government has supported the project with $9.5m, while the Federal Government and City of Busselton have committed $13m and $4m, respectively. Busselton Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Michael Brown eachoed Ms Shreeve’s concerns, saying that without the project’s go-ahead the flow-on effects will impact the entire region. “The Busselton Jetty attracts 1.5 to 2 million people a year to the South West, that’s a sizeable amount of . . . tourists who then inject a fair bit of revenue into our economy,” he said. “The new facility, if built, will have a significant impact long term to the increased economic projection, because visitors come for this big Australia-first attraction and then spend the rest of their holiday in town, spending money on accommodation, stores and other tourism attractions. “It will be absolutely tragic if the project is abandoned.” Dubbed “the Cetacean”, the design features an abstract likeness of a whale with its head peering up out of the water. The submerged part of the structure will include 5.5m-high windows gazing out into a seagrass meadow, while above water more windows offer views of the ocean and the pier leading back to Busselton. The jetty’s existing observatory, built in 2003, is no longer capable of servicing the current visitor demand, with a capacity limit of only 44 people per hour. The project, if completed as planned, hopes to draw more than 200,000 visitors and bring the jetty’s annual visitation to more than 900,000.