$17 Million, 10 Month Renovation of Giant Ocean Tank & New Exhibits Completed
Strangely enough, a spectacular tropical coral reef can now be found on Boston’s waterfront! Known for its complex and diverse exhibits, the New England Aquarium will officially re-open its Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) on July 1 after a ten month, $17.3 million re-design and renovation of its signature Caribbean coral reef and the development of two new complementary exhibits.
Here's a look at that 10-month renovation condensed into a matter of seconds!
The new, four story reef is home to more than 2000 aquatic animals, which is more than double the number of animals that the exhibit ever held. Boston’s new reef boasts a very robust 140 different species making it among the most bio-diverse in the world. These aquatic residents have found the thousands of newly installed, colorful new corals to their liking. Romance is bursting all about the reef, which speaks to the new reef’s biological accuracy and beauty. [Meet some of these vibrant residents in this underwater video on the Divers Blog.]
|A blacknose shark swims among the thousands of fish in the Giant Ocean Tank | Photo: W. Chappell|
The artistry in re-making the giant coral reef came from Peter Brady, the Aquarium’s renowned designer who has created many of its habitats and sculptures. For months, he and his team worked in a warehouse studio in nearby Charlestown, Mass. They made 1,500 smaller pieces of vibrant fire, brain, lettuce and star corals where the schooling fish will stream by and others will hide inside. Many pieces were cast from molds of real corals, which were then filled with colored acrylic matching the astounding colors of a vibrant, healthy Caribbean coral reef. [See a couple pictures of the reef's installation.]
Aquarium visitors can see what a pristine coral reef looks like up close and how it functions. The GOT’s famously intimate windows have been replaced with a super clear acrylic that varies in thickness from 2 to 3 inches. The bottoms of many windows, which were formerly hip high, have been lowered to shin height to allow toddlers to walk up and stare in wonder as the sharks, eels and sea turtles swim by.
|A glass railing at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank lets kids enjoy all the dynamic facets of the top | Photo: W. Chappell|
The entire top of the Giant Ocean Tank has been transformed with many new features and is now called the Yawkey Coral Reef Center. It includes a new, seven tank exhibit gallery that has been added and offers a close-up look at animals that might not be easily seen or understood on the reef. The entire circumference of the tank top is enclosed by a glass railing that maximizes everyone’s view of many of the predators swimming high in the water column. Visitors can now easily recognize creatures resting on the tank’s bottom more than 24 feet below. That exceptional viewing is enhanced by a theatrical quality lighting system that is built into a beautiful, blue, reflective ceiling dome that helps to create a greater underwater ambience throughout the space.
A second divers platform has been built over the GOT to allow Aquarium staff a better perch to interpret the exhibit to visitors. The platform will also be a limited access spot where some visitors may feed or interact with Myrtle, the Aquarium's 560 pound green sea turtle or other animals. The top of the Giant Ocean Tank is now fully accessible to wheelchairs and strollers with the construction of a new ramp and elevator stop.
|Myrtle the green sea turtle has lived in the Giant Ocean Tank since 1970.|
An additional exhibit has been opened on the Aquarium’s first floor called the Blue Planet Action Center. This gallery tells the stories of the Aquarium’s extensive marine conservation and research efforts around the world. Seven foot-high touch screens allow visitors to touch the image of an endangered species and have that image open up to tell about the challenges that it faces. The space also includes a lobster lab and a shark nursery with live shark egg cases where the embryos can be seen moving.
The new Giant Ocean Tank exhibit will be among the most dense and diverse tanks anywhere and will allow the Aquarium’s more than 1.3 million visitors to experience the Caribbean as it was before the arrival of Columbus. The re-opening of the Giant Ocean Tank in the summer of 2013 is the culmination of six years of near continuous building.“It is such an auspicious time in the Aquarium’s history to see so many new aspects of the visitor experience open up,” said Bud Ris, the Aquarium’s President and CEO. “As we approach a half century of being a top tourist attraction in New England, it is very exciting to know we have so much more to offer in an ever-changing world where we can actively instruct the public on how to do their part to help the oceans survive. ”
The general contractor for the re-build was Turner Construction, and the architectural firm was specialty aquarium designer Cambridge Seven Associates, which designed the Aquarium when it first opened in 1969.
Most importantly, visitors will be awed by the beauty of a coral reef city and come to understand what is at stake over the next century as climate change and ocean acidification threaten the very existence of these rainforests of the sea.