New York Aquarium celebrates launch of US$158m shark exhibit six years on from Sandy devastation

We tell the 400 million-year-old story of sharks and their critical role in marine ecosystems as a lead-in to bring New Yorkers back to an awareness and appreciation for the heritage we share in the wildlife that surrounds us
– Jon Forrest Dohlin

The New York Aquarium is celebrating the launch of its US$158m (€135.6m, £120.2m) shark-themed expansion, with the new addition opening on Coney Island's iconic boardwalk tomorrow (30 June).

Covering 57,500sq ft (5,300sq m) and set over three floors, Ocean Wonders: Sharks! features nine galleries, which aim to drive awareness of the importance of sharks to the health of the world’s oceans; educate visitors about the severe threats sharks face; and inspire guests to protect New York's own marine wildlife. The new exhibit features more than 115 species of marine life, including 18 species of sharks and rays.

Presented as an "iconic" addition to the New York City skyline, the building and exhibition design is a collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Design Department, the New York-based Edelman Sultan Knox Wood, Doyle Partners, and Seattle-based interdisciplinary design firm The Portico Group. MLA worked on structural engineering, as did K&L Consulting Engineers.

Headed by Susan Chin, chief architect for WSC, the new building is "inspired by nature", with a facade that is "alive and visually magnetic". Rising out of the boardwalk, the curving structure is wrapped in a 1,100-foot-long (335m) Shimmer Wall, which has been created by environmental artist Ned Kahn. The dynamic structure is designed to be ever-changing and driven by the forces of nature as more than 33,000 aluminium flappers on the wall move individually with the wind.

An "Ocean Overlook" is also part of the structure, providing visitors an expansive view of the Coney Island boardwalk, beach, and surrounding New York waters. From the overlook, guests will also be able to see important local habitats such as Sandy Hook.

At the western end of the building, a rock and sculpture garden is formed by terraced planters filled with local grasses and shrubs. The rock garden also features sculptures of marine life, and visitors can use interactive “viewscopes” to see local wildlife.

“The architecture evokes the natural world and reflects the function within; an engaging exhibit that connects people to the ocean and inspires their stewardship," said Chin. "Ocean Wonders: Sharks! is transformative in many ways for the New York Aquarium and Coney Island’s community and visitors.”

The aquarium was badly damaged in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit New York, just days before the new expansion was due to break ground. The aquarium, which opened in 1957 was already in need of significant restoration but was closed for an additional seven months as its animals were tended to, power was restored and the damaged buildings were secured and cleared. The groundbreaking finally took place in January 2014, with part of the aquarium remaining open to the public.

The majority of the project has been financed by the city, which has provided US$111m (€95.3m, £84.5m) towards costs. The remaining US$47m (€40.3m, £35.7m) has been raised through private funding and tax exempt financing.

“We’re celebrating a remarkable new facility where New Yorkers can learn more about – and be delighted by – our ocean-dwelling neighbours," said New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

"We’re also celebrating another big step toward recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The New York Aquarium brings the wonders of the sea to our doorstep, and we’re proud to have made a major investment in its restoration."

The aquarium in-house operation is environmentally friendly, selling only sustainable seafood in its restaurants and using green packaging, with a focus on eliminating all single-use plastic including straws, cups, bags and other items in its restaurants and retail outlets. The aquarium has partnered with Monterey Bay Aquarium on the initiative to raise awareness for the damage being caused by single-use plastics.

Education is a priority of the redevelopment, with around 60,000 youth and adults anticipated to participate each year in the aquarium’s education programmes. To aid this, the new expansion features a 1,500sq ft (140sq m) education space. Called the Oceanview Learning Laboratory and located on the top floor of the aquarium, the space overlooks the ocean and includes and outdoor terrace space. The aquarium’s education team will also provide live interpretation throughout the exhibit, including a rooftop touch tank, dive talks, a new overnight programme, and a re-imagined summer camp for kids.

“Our new Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit will awaken New Yorkers to the magnificence and importance of the ocean here in New York," said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium and WCS vice president.

"We tell the 400 million-year-old story of sharks and their critical role in marine ecosystems as a lead-in to bring New Yorkers back to an awareness and appreciation for the heritage we share in the wildlife that surrounds us right here in this city of islands.

“We hope that the pride and sense of wonder instilled by Ocean Wonders: Sharks! translate into stewardship for our oceans.”

The full restoration of the aquarium in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is set to be completed in 2020. Once work is complete, the aquarium is expected to generate more than US$80m (€68.6m, £61m) annually the city. Ocean Wonders: Sharks! is estimated to contribute more than US$20m (€17.2m, £15.2m) to that figure.

New York Aquarium  Coney Island  Ocean Wonders: Sharks!  aquarium  Hurricane Sandy  New York  Wildlife Conservation Society  Edelman Sultan Knox Wood 
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The New York Aquarium is celebrating the launch of its US$158m (€135.6m, £120.2m) shark-themed expansion, with the new addition opening on Coney Island's iconic boardwalk tomorrow (30 June). Covering 57,500sq ft (5,300sq m) and set over three floors, Ocean Wonders: Sharks! features nine galleries, which aim to drive awareness of the importance of sharks to the health of the world’s oceans; educate visitors about the severe threats sharks face; and
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Headed by Susan Chin, chief architect for WSC, the new building is
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