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Port Marlborough hires ‘specialist’ staff to rehome EcoWorld animals


EcoWorld owner John Reuhman emailed media outlets in 2021 claiming more than 100 animals at the aquarium would have to be “slaughtered” as his lease wasn’t being renewed. (File photo)

EcoWorld owner John Reuhman emailed media outlets in 2021 claiming more than 100 animals at the aquarium would have to be “slaughtered” as his lease wasn’t being renewed. (File photo)
Photo: Stuff

It comes after a decision from Justice David Gendall, released on Friday, ruled EcoWorld owner John Reuhman had 20 working days to leave the waterfront building, after a High Court bid to stop his eviction failed. He could look to rehome animals during that time, should he wish to.

Port Marlborough would take over responsibility of the animals which remained after the 20 working days.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Port Marlborough said they were pleased with the court order, which granted them “repossession” of their land, following EcoWorld’s 16-month “occupation”.

“The decision of Justice Gendall not only confirms the legal position of Port Marlborough as landlord, but also endorses our conduct throughout this challenging period,” the statement said.

The port said they hoped Reuhman would “finally do the right thing” and look to rehome the animals and vacate the site, as directed by Justice Gendall.

“Notwithstanding, the welfare of the animals remains our top priority, and we have contracted specialist staff to assist in this process,” the statement said.

The port would continue to work with Te Papa Atawhai/the Department of Conservation, the Zoo and Aquarium Association, Ministry for Primary Industries/Manatū Ahu Matua, iwi and other expert bodies to co-ordinate the sustainable rehoming or release of the animals if required, the statement said.

The statement said planning for the site was underway, and they looked forward to consulting with the Marlborough community, iwi and stakeholders on how the site could “best serve the community” going forward.

Meanwhile, when a Local Democracy Reporter and visual journalist visited on Tuesday, the waterfront aquarium was open to the public. An employee also sold someone a ticket to the cinema in the building.

EcoWorld director John Reuhman was last week given 20 working days to vacate the aquarium.

EcoWorld director John Reuhman was last week given 20 working days to vacate the aquarium.
Photo: Stuff

Reuhman told the reporter his lawyer had advised him not to talk.

However, in a statement provided by his lawyer later in the day, Reuhman said he was “bitterly disappointed” by the High Court’s decision.

“We are still considering the profound implications of last week’s judgement and EcoWorld’s options moving forward,” Reuhman said, adding he felt “privileged to have run EcoWorld for nearly 20 years”.

Reuhman said it came as a “terrible shock” when Port Marlborough informed him in April 2021 that it was not renewing EcoWorld’s lease.

“EcoWorld and I are considering our options. However, even if the Court’s decision means the Port takes over the building and its creatures, I still hope it will not destroy EcoWorld, but will build on the work that EcoWorld has done over the past 20 years, for the benefit of the Picton community, the wider Marlborough region and, perhaps most of all, the environment.”

The decision from Justice Gendall dismissed Reuhman’s claims “in their entirety”, and said Reuhman built his case “exclusively” around a letter from Port Marlborough, in 2015, that offered him a right of renewal of EcoWorld’s lease.

But instead of accepting that offer, Reuhman went back with a “counter-offer” and tried to negotiate better terms for the lease. It was a basic principle of contract law that a counter-offer was a rejection of the original offer, Gendall said in the decision.

Talks between the two over the next three years discussed a number of “potential changes” to the lease, which included the “possibility” of a right of renewal, the decision said. However, no agreement was ever reached, and the lease instead expired on natural terms.

Gendall said the port was entitled to damages for the costs of removing improvements from the land, including the aquarium and its stock which remained after the 20 working days. Reuhman must also pay any legal costs incurred by Port Marlborough as part of the proceedings.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air



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