The owner of Perth Wildlife Encounters says his business will be “on the brink of collapse” following Tuesday’s closure of the Penguin Island Discovery Centre. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions last month announced it would be closing the centre by June 6 after an independent engineering report revealed structural issues in the building. The $3.3 million plan to build a new facility on the island was abandoned by the State Government over strong opposition from the City of Rockingham, local tourism operators and researchers who raised the alarm about the ongoing effects of climate change on the dwindling penguin population. Environment Minister Reece Whitby first announced in August 2022 the existing centre would likely close. Perth Wildlife Encounters owner Terry Howson, who operates the centre, said he’s been left devastated as the future of his business remains unknown. “It’s been devastating to see my company on the brink of collapse because of something like this,” he said. “It just seems like no one wants to help or assist.” Mr Howson launched Perth Wildlife Encounters 34 years ago, then known as Rockingham Dolphins, offering visitors a chance to swim up close with dolphins. Since then, his business offerings have exploded, with Perth Wildlife Encounters now also offering a ferry service to and from Penguin Island, dolphin, sea lion and penguin wildlife cruises, kayak tours between Penguin and Seal islands, private sunset charter cruises, winter wildlife cruises, private event hire, and other packaged experiences with local accommodation providers. It also operates the popular Pengos Cafe at Mersey Point, near the ferry jetty. In April, Perth Wildlife Encounters also secured the licence from the State Government for the swimming with sea lions trial. PWE chief executive Chad D’Souza said the centre has been vital in not only supporting the little penguins on the island but the entire business, too. Even with expansion into avenues outside of the discovery centre, Mr D’Souza said the company could be operating at a “potential loss”. “Swimming with sea lions is a very niche product, only taking around 24 passengers each trip, which is why we don’t expect it to replace the lost revenue from the closure of the discovery centre,” he said. “We believe between 70 to 80 per cent of our business will be impacted by the closure of the discovery centre, unless we change the way we currently operate on Penguin Island.” In the past 12 months the discovery centre has generated $1.5m in ticket sales, which Mr D’Souza said the business will stand to lose each year the centre remains closed. Mr D’Souza also said visitors to the discovery centre generated a large portion of Rockingham’s tourism economy — claiming the council had said “there’s $180m worth of economic value” in the centre. But last year the City of Rockingham recorded a total $371.1m in tourism sales including tourism value of $181.9m for 2021-22. Mr Howson said there were also growing concerns about the protection of the little penguin colony, including the seven captive penguins it currently looks after and visitors attending the island regardless to seek out and disturb native penguins in their burrows. There have been discussions about relocating the centre to Caversham Wildlife Park or a department holding facility at Point Peron, however, a suitable location is yet to be confirmed. While the State Government is undertaking a $250,000 feasibility study for a possible mainland facility, Mr D’Souza believes it could take years before a new facility could be approved. “We’ve paid millions of dollars in licensing fees to the Government since 2016 and we believed that it would and should be used to maintain the current facility,” he said. Mr D’Souza urged the State Government to keep its election promise to have a new facility built on the island, to continue to showcase the “beautiful region and wildlife within Western Australia”. Rockingham mayor Deb Hamblin said while the City is concerned about the impact of the discovery centre’s closure, it supported the State Government’s decision. “A mainland discovery centre could potentially provide a 365-day-a-year tourism product for the City and the WA economy, with the opportunity for a fully integrated penguin rehabilitation and education centre which enhances Rockingham’s offering of nature and wildlife experiences, while also protecting the little penguins on the island,” she said. Environment Minister Reece Whitby said based on the expert advice provided, it was in the interests of “visitor safety” that the centre be closed. “We have now had three engineering reports into the structural integrity of the Discovery Centre. The latest report states it could be in danger of collapse in high winds,” he said. The centre was set to officially close on Tuesday. Visitors can still catch the ferry to and from the island to explore at their own leisure, with various amenities and facilities currently being upgraded. Mr Whitby said the State Government was still committed to finding a new location for a discovery centre on the mainland.