$40 million Florida Aquarium expansion to go towards enhancing experience, bringing in new animals

The largest and most expensive expansion in The Florida Aquarium’s 27-year history was announced Tuesday. 

Roger Germann, the aquarium's president and CEO, said $40 million is going towards enhancing experiences, bringing in new animals, and expanding conservation reach. 

The aquarium will add California Sea Lions with an elaborate outdoor habitat in the third phase of the planned expansion. The current timetable would have those animals arriving in 2025.

Designers said the new sea lion habitat will be built outside on the north side of the aquarium where the children’s splash pad is now located. They said that popular amenity will be moved elsewhere on the property. The designers said they go to great lengths to design the habitats.

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Before the sea lions arrive, North American Puffins will take up residence at the aquarium. The Puffins will live in another new habitat, two stories tall, not far from the main entrance to be completed in 2024.

The expansion will also add a new home for the African Penguins that already live at the aquarium, but the new habitat will put the popular birds front and center. 

"Having these marquis animals, Puffins, African Penguins, California Sea Lions, puts you in that same category as Monterey Bay, Shedd Aquarium, and Georgia Aquarium," said Bryan Schuetze from Space Haus, an aquarium and zoo design firm based in Chicago.

The first phase of the expansion is expected to open in August 2023. It will be 3,700 square feet of space for rotating, traveling exhibits focusing on animals and conservation.

"We’re all interconnected," said Germann. "So what may happen with the California Sea Lion can also apply to what’s happening right here in our own backyard like those conservation issues with the manatee and other animals."

Germann said the aquarium will seek donations and sponsorships from public and private sources to help pay for the expansion.