Jurassica’s plans for Portland and Weymouth

Did you know that a real Jurassic World is coming to Portland? That’s the ambitious plan driving the Jurassica initiative, an innovative project to convert a disused quarry into a world-class dinosaur-themed experience.

There won’t be any real dinosaurs, of course. And I don’t think T-rex is invited because he wasn’t a Dorset local. Along with ammonites (very Dorset) there will be plenty of sea dwelling dinos including pliosaurs and ichthyosaurs, the massive marine reptiles with scarily large and sharp teeth.

Jurassica, if it happens, promises to be a very exciting place to visit. But there’s no guarantee that it will ever be more than a good idea.

What Jurassica might look like

The Jurassica pop-up exhibition, August 2015
The Jurassica pop-up exhibition, August 2015

In late August I went along to Sea Monsters, the first exhibition organised by the Jurassica team. The three-day event, at Osprey Leisure Centre, attempted to give visitors a flavour of what Jurassica might look like and provided an opportunity for people, particularly locals, to ask questions.

First impressions weren’t promising. “The breath-taking exhibit” promised to bring marine dinosaurs to life. The reality was a scatter of tables and pop-up domes, offering simple children’s activities and a chance to look at a few fossils and display boards. Afterwards, those with me agreed that it didn’t look very inspiring, particularly as there were no under-10s in our party.

Jurassica aims to recreate the drama of Dorset's dinosaur past
Jurassica aims to recreate the drama of Dorset’s dinosaur past

Being a local and wanting to be better informed, I had plenty of questions for some of the Jurassica T-shirted crew. My concerns are around transport, given that there’s only one road to Portland and Jurassica expects 600,000 visitors a year.

I wasn’t told anything I hadn’t already heard before, which is that traffic levels are lower now than when the Navy operated a Portland base. The truth is, this project is still at a very early stage, with traffic assessments and plans to alleviate jams all in the future.

Two models of the Jurassica project were on display, one showing the quarry in its landscape and the other a cut-away view showing what the exhibit might look like. A profusion of sign boards explained why Portland was the best location for what would be an undeniably ground-breaking attraction.

Enthusiasm trumped simplicity at the exhibition

Everyone loves an ammonite
Everyone loves an ammonite

The Jurassica crew, many of whom were local people, were brimming with enthusiasm for the project. It wasn’t over-the-top, naive excitement, but a genuine desire to see the area’s unique geological heritage celebrated through this landmark development.

This positivity helped offset the otherwise thin display of a few fossils, a couple of models suspended from the ceiling, and a cluster of information boards.

Stunning images of the Jurassic Coast, taken from the sea, were occasionally being displayed in one of the domes, with a commentary from the photographer. Unfortunately, opportunities to view these were limited.

An exciting 3D Jurassica finale

The highlight of my visit was the very short but entirely immersive 3D experience. Donning the goggles, I was dropped into the Jurassic seas to swim with dinosaurs. It’s the first time I’ve ever used a 3D headset and I was impressed by the quality of the experience.

The 3D experience brought dinosaurs to life
The 3D experience brought dinosaurs to life

Having spent an hour and a half at the Sea Monsters event (much longer than I anticipated on first arrival) our party left feeling very positive about the Jurassica project. Which I expect is the result the organisers wanted.

Yes, there are still questions to be answered about transport. As someone living right by the main road to Portland, I am concerned about the negative impact of more traffic. All the routes through Weymouth to Portland already struggle to cope at peak times, without the extra traffic Jurassica will generate.

Innovative thinking has brought the Jurassica project this far. With some more of this thinking, I’m sure the traffic issues can be addressed.

Learn more about Jurassica from its website.

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