TAMPA, Fla. — For all lovers of aquatic life, there's an expansion coming to The Florida Aquarium to look forward to.
The Tampa-based aquarium announced Tuesday a $40 million expansion plan which will include "several exciting new exhibits." The project, which has three phases, will begin in January 2023 and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.
According to a news release, the project includes adding new features to the aquarium, including:
- A rotating special exhibit gallery
- Converting the second-floor lobby into a multi-species gallery featuring puffins
- A large-scale outdoor exhibit featuring California sea lions
This will be the first time that California sea lions will be found on the west coast of Florida. Visitors will also be able to see a significant African penguin habitat as part of the outdoor expansion.
"We are reinvigorating The Florida Aquarium by creating innovative and immersive habitats and exhibits, providing captivating guest experiences, and expanding our dynamic animal collection that advances our commitment to saving wildlife and wild places," aquarium President and CEO Roger Germann said in a statement.
"Today we take a major step forward in building the world-class aquarium that Tampa Bay deserves."
This project marks the first big expansion for the aquarium since its opening in 1995. According to aquarium leaders, the designs of all three phases of the expansion "prioritize animal welfare standards."
The first part of the expansion will help transform the existing ballroom space in the Mosaic Center into a 3,700-square-foot flexible and dynamic special exhibit hall.
It's expected to be completed in the summer of 2023.
The second phase, which is slated for 2024, will take visitors to the rocky coasts and feature a two-level puffin habitat with a kelp forest, Atlantic salmon and other larger fish species.
The third phase will be focused on the outdoor plaza, bringing sea lions into their new habitat at The Florida Aquarium. This will also bring the aquarium's penguins out front, allowing for more species survival work with them.
Leaders from The Florida Aquarium say multiple viewing windows well over 20 feet will allow guests to see nesting sites and a deep dive pool for the fun-to-watch birds.
"An expanded guest experience and pathway responds to a growing marketplace and historic visitor attendance at The Florida Aquarium in recent years," aquarium leaders explain in the release. "It also delivers on the Aquarium's mission to connect guests to the marine world in meaningful and inspiring ways.
"Equally as important, the expansion helps The Florida Aquarium deliver on its promise to have a more global perspective in conservation."