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The new site for the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is bustling. Construction workers can be seen milling around the building from top to bottom, inside and out, working to complete the aquarium by its anticipated opening date of Dec. 28.
The aquarium, which is moving from Sandy to its new building in Draper just off 12300 South, encompasses more than 136,000 square feet. That compares to just 48,000 square feet in Sandy. This will allow the aquarium to hold approximately 1 million gallons of water, said development director Ronnie Daniel.
The aquarium was designed by marine biologists and designers who are on staff. The first floor will feature marine, freshwater and rain forest exhibits, a 400-seat banquet hall, café and gift shop.
“We will have more than 5,000 different animals, which is compared to 2,000 at our Sandy location,” said Suzy Broadbent, director of public relations and marketing. “It’s just astronomical how much more we are able to contain. We will have four touch pools, where before we only had one.”
There will also be an exhibit called the Discover Utah Gallery, which will showcase freshwater aquatic species, amphibians and mammals indigenous to Utah. Daniel said patrons will be able to walk from Southern to Northern Utah in the exhibit. The gallery will also house a river otter exhibit, with views to both the otters’ indoor and outdoor habitats.
Other exhibits include the Ocean Explorer Gallery, which will be home to marine species such as octopus, stingrays and seahorses. The highlight feature of this gallery will be a 300,000 gallon shark tank with a 40-foot walk-through tunnel.
The tunnel will house more than 20 species of sharks, rays and turtles, Daniel said. Patrons will also have the opportunity to purchase tickets for a scuba diving experience in the shark tank, Broadbent said.
“The shark tank has gotten a lot of interest,” Broadbent said. “We’re going to do diving with the sharks for certified divers. But I think the biggest surprise when people come in is the Journey to South America exhibit. It’s going to be breathtaking with all the birds and the vegetation.”
The Journey to South America Gallery will include free-flight tropical birds, caiman, a giant anaconda, electric eels, poison arrow frogs and dozens of other Amazon species.
Other exhibits at the aquarium will be the Penguin Encounter, Deep Sea Gallery, and a scale model replica of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel. The facility will also have a 4D theater that will present interactive nature films.
“One of our films shows a turtle coming at you out of the screen and as he does, you will be able to feel the mist of water,” Daniel said.
In addition to exhibits, the aquarium will also have an extensive education center equipped with scientific equipment for students from kindergarten to college to gain hands-on experience about marine biology and other animal and water sciences. The new facility will have the capacity to hold up to 270 students per hour, Daniel said.
Daniel said the new building, even though it’s quite larger, will use less water than the Sandy building because water will be filtered and reused through four tanks before it is discarded.
Ground was broken on the new aquarium in October 2012. The Sandy location closed in September to make preparations for opening the new Draper facility. The cost of the new building is $24 million, which was funded by donors, grants, corporate sponsors and financing.
“We designed this aquarium with a hub and spoke model,” Daniel said. “We wanted it to be open for people to go where they wanted to and spend as much time in each place as they liked.”
Broadbent said the aquarium is important to Utah because it provides residents with the opportunity to learn more about marine life.
“Our tagline is ‘explore, discover, learn,’” she said. “We hope that people who come will do just that. We also hope it will be a big tourist attraction. It’s going to be a world-class venue that people will have to come and see.”