Situated on 14 acres by the sea in Coney Island, the New York Aquarium’s exhibits, public events, educational programs and local conservation science all work together to inspire the public to protect and save aquatic wildlife around the world with a special emphasis on the diversity and beauty of habitats and wildlife right here in the waters of New York. The aquarium strives to foster an environment where people understand the fragility of aquatic ecosystems and the critical role the oceans play in human livelihoods and well-being.
The Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit brings visitors up close to a diverse group of sharks, demonstrating their critical role in ocean ecosystems and how vulnerable they are to the actions of humans. The exhibit features panoramic rooftop ocean views of some of New York’s beautiful and varied coastline habitats.
A new 57,500-square-foot building will house an exciting shark exhibit that creates a sense of awe of the ocean, an urgency and concern for the ocean’s health, and will reconnect New Yorkers to their local waters, encouraging them to become active stewards of that ocean wilderness. With more than 800,000 gallons of water, this new exhibit building will house more than 115 species within a variety of unique and complementary exhibits. Interactive presentations of the local conservation work being done by the aquarium’s New York Seascape Program, this exhibit will educate and inspire visitors with representations of the amazing ocean ecosystems that surround them and a dynamic collection of the charismatic marine species that are found in local waters.
Boardwalk Level Spaces
The organic form of the building undulates across the line of the boardwalk, creating a new and dynamic relationship between the New York Aquarium and the surrounding community by forming unique gathering spaces for the boardwalk visitor. At the western end of the building a rock and sculpture garden is formed by terraced planters filled with local grasses and shrubs that appear to flow from within the Aquarium. Benches offer an opportunity to pause along the boardwalk, people watch, and see the ocean. Sculptures of marine life are peppered throughout the rock garden. Visitors can use interactive “viewscopes” to see amazing local wildlife such as sharks, whales, and sea turtles that can be found beneath the surface of the great blue ocean that is before them.
The Oceanside Grille presents an opportunity to enjoy sustainably sourced seafood or a cold drink, and provides a means of reaching millions of Boardwalk visitors with a message of conservation, sustainability and choice. A covered seating area at the east-end provides shade and views out to the ocean.
Clad in a shimmering spiral, the ramp is more than just circulation, it is a place to view the ocean and learn more about local ecology. Punctuated with interpretive graphics along the way, it is a continuation of the exhibit experience that takes you on a journey through our coastal habitats and culminates in a series of gathering spaces.
The Ocean Overlook provides an expansive view of the Coney Island boardwalk, beach, and surrounding New York waters. Visitors will be able to see important local habitats such as Sandy Hook. Comfortable seating and shade will give visitors an opportunity to relax with a view of the ocean. At the new Touch Pool on the Ocean Overlook, kids will have the opportunity for hands-on learning about the local marine animals through a staff facilitated experience.
Another key element of the Ocean Wonders: Sharks! program is the Oceanview Learning Laboratory. This 1,500 square foot education space has ocean views and a separate outdoor terrace, giving classes access to both indoor and outdoor spaces. Designed with flexibility in mind but outfitted with marine artifacts, this space will help support the education goals of the New York Seascape Program. Education groups will also have direct access to the adjacent Touch Pool experience, and the Oceanview Terrace. Accessible by both private elevator and staircase entry, and containing support facilities of bathrooms and prep space, the Oceanview Learning Laboratory also has potential as a small event venue for intimate dinners or luncheons. The entire rooftop level will be an excellent location for cocktail receptions and other special events.
The Oceanview Learning Laboratory was made possible by Ann and Andrew Tisch.
The Oceanview Terrace was made possible by Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation, Inc.
Coral Reef Tunnel
Visitors will walk through an immersive underwater tunnel that features a visually rich reef ecosystem with sharks and schooling fish swimming overhead and all around them. The beauty of the coral reef and the jewel-like quality of its diverse wildlife will help visitors to forge an emotional bond with the animals and help them understand the interconnectivity of reef ecosystems. Visitors will also be introduced to the role that sharks play in keeping ocean ecosystems healthy.
Sharks Up Close
In this highly interactive gallery, visitors can explore the diversity, unique physiology and behavior of sharks and rays. Using an array of tactics including live animals, video, interactive media, mechanical interactives, and compelling graphics, visitors will learn about the different ways sharks and rays reproduce, how they breathe, how they move, and the amazing number of different forms the more than 350 species take. This gallery will be a place to explore, discover, and learn more about these remarkable animals. Visitors will be able to get nose-to-nose with several smaller species of sharks including epaulette and white spot bamboo sharks.
Shark Generations was made possible by The Prospect Hill Foundation.
Sharks In Peril
Some of the biological attributes of sharks, in particular their reproduction methods and slow growth rate, are the reason they are so vulnerable to overfishing. Visitors will encounter a dim, oppressive space filled with nets that will focus primarily on the threats of bycatch and finning, and show how commercial and recreational shark fisheries are contributing to the decimation of many shark species—and how these biological attributes make it so hard for them to rebound from overfishing. Finning (the process of removing a shark’s fins for soup), and sharks’ high rate of incidental bycatch for non-shark fisheries, have reduced many species by up to 90%. But there is hope—through the exhibit building, visitors will be introduced to organizations, like WCS, that are doing important science that contributes to conservation policy and saving sharks around the world.
Discover New York Waters
This dramatic and vibrant exhibit gallery will highlight the amazing, but little-known, marine ecosystems found off the coast of New York—ecosystems that are biologically diverse and rich with marine life. Visitors will learn why the geography and current patterns of the New York coast create a unique set of conditions that allow for hundreds of species to use these waters as nurseries, pupping and foraging grounds, and migratory corridors. A 62,000-gallon exhibit will feature several New York shark species as well as a huge abundance of rays swimming against bright outcroppings covered with colorful anemones. Interactive panels surrounding the tank help showcase the sheer number of species that travel through New York waters as well as discuss the issues that can arise when humans and wildlife share the same spaces.
This gallery will also introduce our NY Seascape initiative that is focusing on shark conservation here in New York waters.
Discover New York Waters was given in recognition of Elizabeth W. Flowers and Rebecca W. Flowers.
New York Seascape
Within New York Waters, an interactive gallery space shows how WCS scientists are using tagging and tracking to save sharks both here in New York and in oceans around the world. Visitors will be able to assume the role of a scientist to see how WCS tags sharks in the wild. A WCS scientist will be featured, showing visitors how tagging and tracking sand tiger sharks happens in the wild. A colorful and enticing interactive wall allows visitors to see how the information we learn from those tracked animals is used to develop conservation strategies aimed at halting the precipitous decline of shark species both locally and globally.
New York Seascape was made possible by Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation
Migratory Tunnel was made possible by The Barker Welfare Foundation.
After seeing up-close some of the remarkable natural habitats of New York, visitors will be able to experience another type of local habitat made not by nature but by humans. New York waters are home to many shipwrecks that act as aggregators of marine life, places where sharks and other fish gather to hunt. Visitors will walk through the hull of a local shipwreck, representing one of the more than 60 wrecks found along the New York coastline. Dark armatures and shifting light create a sense of being underwater. A hole in the wreck’s hull expose areas where sharks swim overhead. Another opening shows a cave where nurse sharks can be found and other views from the shipwreck reveal some of the other species found in wrecks, smaller animals that attract larger ones.
Visitors emerge from the wreck to discover an inspiring view of the edge of the Hudson Canyon, a marine canyon similar in size and depth to the Grand Canyon, that begins at the mouth of the Hudson River and extends hundreds of miles off shore. Large sand tiger sharks swim slowly into the well-lit foreground closest to the visitor and then disappear into the depths of the seemingly limitless ocean. Currents carefully located on the sandy ledge and directly in front of the viewing area will create resting places for nurse sharks and give visitors a nose-to-nose encounter. Schooling fish and large rays show the richness and diversity of this near-shore ecosystem. The goal of this affective experience is to create a sense of awe and wonder for sharks. Available seating will allow guests a more extended and potentially meditative experience with sharks.
The location of Coney Island at the shore—the point where the city meets the ocean—has inspired a highly interactive exhibit space that will emphasize New York City’s connection to the ocean and to empower visitors with reachable conservation goals and choices. Using touchable and interactive media, we will show visitors that the lifestyle choices they make can influence pollution and the health of the ocean’s fish stocks. With a background that mimics our local cityscape, visitors can learn how plastics affect the ocean, what happens to pollution run-off, how to choose sustainable seafood, and how they themselves can become advocates for a cleaner, healthier ocean. Linking the “ocean” side of the exhibit with the “city” side of the exhibit is a bright colorful eelgrass bed tank populated by gentle seahorses and other coastal marine animals showing visitors how far we have come as a city in changing our attitude towards the ocean and how working for a cleaner coastline has allowed for these delicate species to once again thrive here in New York.
New York Streetscape was made possible by Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Eelgrasses & Seahorses was made possible by The Achelis and Bodman Foundation.
Ocean Cleanup was made possible by Dow.
As visitors exit the building, the exhibit experience continues as they make their way up the ramp to the Ocean Viewing Deck. Interpretive nodes along the ramp will give visitors an opportunity to learn about the ecological history of Coney Island, point out critical nearby ecosystems such as Jamaica Bay and Sandy Hook, and help them identify local wildlife including birds, sharks, and marine mammals that travel these waters. As visitors gain elevation, breathtaking and expansive ocean views are revealed. The ramp is not only circulation but a place to see the ocean and learn more about the wildlife that thrives just off shore.
Total Building: 57,500 sq.ft
Total system gallons:784,000 gal
Canyon’s Edge: 600,000 gal
Total of 9 galleries
Estimated Total # of Species: 115+
Shimmer wall 1,100 linear feet
33,000 aluminum tiles
Height above Plaza:
51’-6” to top of Classroom
67’-11” to top of shimmer wall
Height above Boardwalk:
44’-0” to top of Classroom
60’-5” to top of shimmer wall.
From the 3rd floor Classroom and Café you can clearly see Sandy Hook, NJ
Acrylic: more than 150 linerar feet
13’-0” wide x 9’ tall x 40’-0” long x 5” thick
Coral Tunnel used approx. 2,193 pieces of artificial coral
49’ diameter (outside) x 9’ tall x 3.3” thick
54’-0” long x 14’ tall x 8.9” thick
12 species of sharks, and 6 species of skates and rays.
Sand Tiger Sharks
Brownbanded Bamboo Sharks
White Spotted Bamboo Sharks
Whitetip Reef Sharks
Blacktip Reef Sharks
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Miscellaneous schooling fish
The building and the exhibit were designed in a collaborative effort between the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Design Department, the Architect of Record, Edelman, Sultan Knox Wood, and their consultant team including the Portico Group, Doyle Partners and the artist of the shimmer wall, Ned Kahn. Together, this team represents a large multi-disciplinary expertise that has extensive experience in designing architectural projects for zoos and aquariums across the country and around the world.
The WCS provides team leadership for the project and is headed by Susan Chin, FAIA, Vice President of Planning and Design & Chief Architect. Ms. Chin, a registered architect with more than 20 years of design and construction experience, leads the Design Department at WCS consisting of registered architects, graphic designers, exhibit designers and exhibit developers who have worked on such notable projects as the Snow Leopard exhibit at Central Park Zoo, Center for Global Conservation and the Lion House at the Bronx Zoo.
The Architect of Record is the New York based firm of Edelman Sultan Knox Wood Architects LLP (ESKW) who bring to the table a high level of local design and construction knowledge. ESKW is a well established practice with a history of successful institutional, residential and commercial projects. Randy Wood, AIA is the Principal-In-Charge. WCS and ESKW have collaborated in the past on award winning projects such as the Eco Restroom at the Bronx Zoo.
Other Key Consultants:
Shimmer wall artist
The Portico Group
K & L Consulting Engineers
Viridian Energy & Environmental, LLC
Leonard J. Strandberg and Associates
Focus Lighting Inc.
Lighting (Base building and Exhibit lighting)
Life Support Systems Engineering
Groundbreaking: January 10, 2014
Topping out June 23, 2015
Opening date: June 30, 2018