When the Tropical Cove reopens after a months-long renovation, many Aquarium guests will be awed by the sight of Ring-tailed and Red-ruffed Lemurs bounding overhead through the new Lemur Forest exhibit. But the upgrade to the top floor of Ocean Journey also encompassed dramatic improvements to Stingray Bay, the Aquarium’s largest touch tank.
This sprawling display is one of the Aquarium’s most popular exhibits, but in the past, some guests — particularly younger ones — had trouble making contact with the shark and ray species gliding through its warm waters. Thanks to a new slimmed-down design, the tank will be less time-consuming to maintain, its resident species will enjoy more comfortable living conditions and visitors of all ages and sizes will find it easier than ever to enjoy.
“Touch tanks exist to make that one-on-one connection between a person and an animal,” says Senior Aquarist Kyle McPheeters. “When a little kid can have a one-on-one with a Stingray, that drives conservation education."
“Now, it’s a much better-looking exhibit and much better for our animals," he adds. "Our guests will be able to utilize it far more easily than they could before.”
Here’s a breakdown of the changes to Stingray Bay’s look and function:
- The decorative rockwork that lined the walls of the tank has been replaced with poured concrete coated with glossy epoxy paint. This lowered the height and width of the walls, making it easier to touch the animals and increasing the square footage of the tank’s interior.
By opening up the tank interior, the animals also will be able to navigate with fewer physical obstructions and more easily avoid each other, which will help lower stress levels.
“Removing the rockwork really helped with providing more swim space,” McPheeters says. “I was shocked by how much bigger it is now. The walls are maybe 10 inches thick now. Before, they were at least two feet thick in some places.”
- A step added to the base of certain sections of the tank will offer a leg up for children to more easily access areas where the wall is taller. Before, visitors often went to the “uphill” side of the tank where the barrier was shortest to reach into the tank. Now, they’ll be able to uniformly touch the animals from almost any part of the exterior.
- The old patio umbrella on the docent island has been replaced with a tiki hut equipped with new speakers.
- The wooden bridge to access the island has been replaced with a composite decking material, and the steps leading up to this crossover have been reconstructed to be safer to traverse.
- A false floor — or plenum — has been reinstalled in the tank. This will lead to a healthier sand bed, and it raises the bottom of the tank higher so that the animals are more easily touched.
- The top of the concrete walls have been topped with a Corian cap. In addition to providing a flat top surface, this slight overhang also will discourage the Stingrays from jumping over the shorter tank walls.