After nearly a decade of planning and several years of delay, city officials on Thursday announced plans to break ground on the New York Aquarium’s new “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” complex, which will feature 500,000 gallons of water and more than 100 species of marine critters, including sting rays, sea turtles — and of course, sharks.
“Here in New York, we do frown on loan sharks, and pool sharks and card sharks. But the aquarium sharks are another kettle of fish,” said a pun-happy Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made the announcement in the middle of the Discovery Channel’s famous Shark Week marathon, which is currently celebrating its 25th year.
The exhibit — part of a $130 million renovation and now set to open in 2015 — will add new, interactive features and bring visitors face-to-face with thousands of schooling fish as well as 40 of the ocean's terrifying top predators, including local sand tiger and nurse sharks, and more exotic species, including guitar fish and bamboo sharks, said Christian Samper, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the aquarium.
He said he hopes the new 57,000 square-foot exhibit will help introduce New Yorkers to some of the intriguing, endangered species living right off the coast, like the tiger and nurse sharks.
“Despite their very fierce reputation, sharks, skates and rays among the most vulnerable wildlife out there right now,” he said. “This will be an opportunity to educate the people of New York about this incredible wildlife that is right here.”
The new exhibit, which will replace the aquarium's current tanks, is designed to feel more open, with an exterior ramp that will lead visitors up to a lookout space over the ocean.
The aquarium is also planning to give the outside of the building a major facelift with a 1,101-foot long “shimmer wall,” made with 43,000 aluminum “flappers,” to help beckon visitors from the beach.
The project, which was originally announced back in 2009, has gone through several iterations. The final version will cost about $130 million dollars, with $93.1 million coming from the city and the rest paid for with private cash. The city had originally committed just $41 million to the project, according to reports from 2009, when it was expected to be completed in 2013.
Groundbreaking is now set for October of this year, and all of the sharks currently housed at the aquarium will remain on display throughout the renovations, officials said.
When the work is complete, the new sharks and sea creatures will join them in the new exhibit.
In addition to the new shark exhibits, the city is also planning a major overhaul of access to Coney Island and the aquarium from the West 8th Street subway station.
The city released a Request for Proposals early Thursday that calls for the complete demolition of the weary West 8th Street pedestrian bridge and causeway, and the reconstruction of West 8th Street and Surf Avenue, with new pedestrian walkways.
The city is also planning new pedestrian areas at the corner of West 10th Street and the boardwalk, which stands on the opposite side of the famous Cyclone roller coaster.
The city has pledged more than $150 million toward revitalizing Coney Island, with plans for thousands of new housing units, as well as an upgrade of the waterfront’s famous boardwalk.
But does the mayor actually like sharks, whose numbers have been decimated due to over-hunting?
“I mean, I guess. I don’t have anything against them,” he said, before heading over to the aquarium's theater, where he got a goodbye kiss from Osborne, the sea lion.
“Swimming with them, I’ve gotten used to."