The diverse beauty of sea life can be marveled up-close when visiting The Florida Aquarium.
Since its opening in 1995, the Downtown Tampa attraction has given tourists a glimpse into the aquatic world, while offering them a chance to learn and have fun at the same time.
The venue attracts 800,000 visitors annually.
“The aquarium is set up to take you on a water journey,” explained Brian Gallaher, digital media manager at the aquarium. “We want to educate, inspire and entertain all at the same time.”
Home to an estimated 8,000 plant and animal species, the facility is divided into seven main galleries:
- Wetlands Trail
- Journey to Madagascar
- Bays and Beaches
- No Bones Zone
- Coral Reef
- Dragons Down Under
- Waves of Wonder
Native Floridian wildlife can be explored while strolling through the Wetlands Trail.
“A lot of animals here are rescues, especially the birds,” Gallaher said.
One such bird is the Great Blue Heron in the trail’s Mangrove Forest.
The aquarium serves as a rehabilitation center for animals such as one heron who was transferred from an animal sanctuary after suffering an injured wing.
The furry North American river otters can also be spotted above water. During winter season, kids can interact with them in an open area layered with snow to provide even more fun.
A White Gar shark, with its protruding teeth, as well as the red drum and snook fish, also can be viewed, too.
If visitors hear a rustling in the leaves, perhaps it’s the spotted Burmese python, slithering from limb to limb.
While the python is not native to the Sunshine State, it has adapted and thrived, growing as long as 13 feet.
For those looking for a sample of African wildlife, check out the aquarium’s Journey to Madagascar. That offers a glimpse of animals that are indigenous to the region.
Geckos, reef fish and giant clams can be viewed in that gallery.
And, if you’ve never heard a cockroach hiss before, you’ll have your opportunity here.
This gallery also brings awareness to such endangered species as lemurs, radiated tortoises – and even coral reefs.
“Coral is an animal,” Gallaher explained. “A lot of people don’t realize that.”
A small-scale nursery houses diverse coral, which are threatened by pollution and rising water temperatures in their native seas.
The No. 1 priority there is to provide a safe environment to allow the reproduction of more coral – which eventually will be integrated back into the wild.
The Bays and Beaches area is home to one of the aquarium’s eldest members – Cleatus, the Goliath grouper.
His namesake serves him well: He is 5-foot-10 and weighs nearly 300 pounds.
And, Cleatus is still growing, Gallaher said.
Other expert swimmers found in this gallery include stingrays, spiny lobsters and upside down jellyfish, to name a few.
More colorful marine life with elongated, prickly bodies can be found in the No Bone Zone.
Often associated with clownfish, sea anemones can be mesmerizing to watch — as their numerous tentacles float about.
Diverse color also illuminates the water with the presence of sea cucumbers, sea urchins and sea stars.
In addition to more turtles and stingrays, the Coral Reef gallery showcases various sharks, barracudas and eels, while Dragons Down Under has some of the smallest sea creatures – sea dragons, seahorses and pipefish.
The aquarium’s newest gallery, Waves of Wonder was unveiled last year. It houses the center’s second largest exhibit – Heart of the Sea.
The exhibit offers guests a chance to learn about the aquarium’s conservation efforts to rehabilitate endangered sea life — using multi-camera technology and live programs to explain that work.
And, if looking through a glass window doesn’t satisfy your curiousity, you can even swim with sea life.
Under the supervision of a trained diver, guests can view animals up-close and be apart of the exhibit, too.
Roger Germann, president of the aquarium, said these offerings bring more awareness to the plight facing aqautic life — and aim to motivate people to be more conscious about keeping oceans litter-free.
With an educational tutorial, guests can sit in the 4-D theater room wearing three-dimensional glasses, feeling just inches away from underwater spectacles.
The newly renovated Mosaic Center has several ballrooms, which can be used for meetings, birthday parties and other special events.
It also houses an art gallery showcasing images of various birds by photographer Jim Gray.
There’s also a gift shop, a café and an outdoor bar, where adult beverages can be purchased.
Kids can get soaked at the Splash Pad water park, and there’s a Wild Dolphin Cruise available, too.
The aquarium aims to promote recreation and education, Germann said.
“We think that one of the best ways to get people to make change is through inspiration and entertainment,” the aquarium president said.
“Animals here serve as ambassadors, educators and as science.”
To learn more on the aquarium or to purchase tickets, call (813) 273-4000, or visit FLAquarium.org.
The Florida Aquarium
Where: 701 Channelside Drive in Tampa
When: Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Ticket prices vary daily
Details: As one of Tampa’s hotspots, The Florida Aquarium has several galleries featuring aquatic wildlife to view and even swim with. A theater, diner, gift shop and water park also add to the entertainment factor.
Info: To learn more about the aquarium, call (813) 273-4000, or visit FLAquarium.org.
New turtle rehab opens in Apollo Beach
The Bay Area has a new, safe haven to nurse wounded and malnourished turtles from various coasts off the United States.
The Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center officially opened on Jan. 23, taking in its first batch of turtles two weeks later.
The Apollo Beach rehab is a branch of The Florida Aquarium, and has been at least a decade in the making.
“There was a moment where we started seeing more and more turtles that needed helped,” said Roger Germann, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium.
Once a plan was set in motion for the $4.1 million center, the project received funding from the state, as well as donors, Germann said.
The first group of sea critters arrived on Feb. 4. It included a half-dozen green turtles and one loggerhead turtle.
They were rescued off the U.S. East Coast from freezing waters due to the harsh weather of this past winter.
Physical therapy also plays an important role in regaining health, as the two-story center offers several rehabilitation pools. One of those pools is an 11-foot turtle dive tank, the deepest one in Florida.
While the rehab is in full operation, a date has not been set to open it for public viewing.
Published April 03, 2019