When you think of sharks you might not think of them swimming in New York’s ocean waters. But at the new $158 million, 57,000+ square foot home of the New York Aquarium on Coney Island built for Ocean Wonders: Sharks! visitors can see the diverse and surprising marine wildlife that exists right off New York’s shores. The New York Aquarium is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and has been a partner in their 120 year-long effort to save wildlife. The creation of this new exhibit space is a collaborative effort in a shared goal to further the WCS work by establishing Ocean Wonders as a public engagement entry point.
The beautiful world created in Ocean Wonders connects the intriguing fascination of sharks and the important conservation needed to protect them and other marine wildlife. The New York Aquarium has seen a 70% growth in the number of visitors since Ocean Wonders opened last June and they ask New Yorkers during and after their visit to work with the Aquarium to protect, conserve, and celebrate through conservation actions that begin at home.
Ocean Wonders: Sharks! No need to hold your breath for this sea dive. The Coral Reef Tunnel lets you explore a colorful reef, while blacktip reef sharks, fish, and zebra sharks swim around you.
Photograph courtesy New York Aquarium.
The WCS says that Ocean Wonders: Sharks! “will drive awareness of the importance of sharks to the health of the world’s ocean; educate visitors about the severe threats sharks face; and inspire guests to protect the surprisingly diverse and beautiful marine wildlife here in New York.” The exhibition allows visitors to get up close and learn about sharks while supporting the WCS as they work to save sharks around the world. The New York Aquarium uses the appeal and fascination of sharks as an accessible entry point for visitors to learn about the diverse marine wildlife that is closer to home then they might think. It challenges visitors to understand and take action around lifestyle decisions that can have a positive impact on wildlife in New York waters.
Ocean Wonders: Sharks! has a popular appeal. The Coral Reef Tunnel, dubbed “highly Instagramable,” is a visitor favorite across all demographics. If you type #nyaquarium into your Instagram search, you’ll see an astonishing number of coral reef tunnel images and probably more pictures than you can scroll through. Most images are perfectly posed and others include quotes from the song “Baby Shark,” but most are images of what you find behind the glass -- over 115 marine species and 18 different species of sharks and rays. Other sections of the exhibition include a series of experiential spaces that focus on the role sharks play in maintaining healthy marine habitats, the threats that sharks face from fisheries, and data that support that sharks are indeed found throughout the world, and in New York. Visitors learn that sharks aren’t so far away and that the diversity of this group, its ancient lineage, and highly evolved adaptations are what makes the shark so intriguing- even if you don’t have a great interest in marine life.
A sand tiger shark leads the way in the Ocean Wonder: Sharks! Exhibition. Photograph by Julie Larsen Maher, New York Aquarium
Conservation Through Connection
The Canyon’s Edge gallery gives visitors the ability to look deep into the depths of the ocean. New York is home to Hudson Canyon, the largest submarine canyon on the Atlantic Coast. The New York Aquarium is working to have it named as a National Marine Sanctuary. Here visitors might catch a glimpse of a sand tiger shark or a nurse shark resting along the sandy ledge. Canyon’s Edge creates a sense of awe and wonder and allows visitors to stare past its well-lit foreground into the deep blue. Your eyes catch the light as it's disrupted by a passing sandbar shark or a cownose ray. Their movements and the calm water current that has created this resting sandy ledge is meditative. Sharks are an ecologically important component of the diverse wildlife found all around New York.
Looking out beyond the sandy ledge at Canyon’s Edge.
Photograph courtesy New York Aquarium
Swimming the Swim
In addition to raising awareness about the ecological conservation for sharks, the Ocean Wonders exhibition wants to educate the public about environmental threats to marine wildlife. Ocean Wonders used to build public awareness for marine wildlife conservation through educating the public about the threats of plastic pollution and ways that they can minimize their impact. “There are threats of pollution and overexploitation that threaten New York’s waters and that Aquarium visitors can take action to minimize in their own lives…” said John Delany, Director of Communications for the New York Aquarium. The New York Aquarium leads by example by drastically reducing the amount of plastic used on site, and ensuring that seafood served is sustainably sourced. For more information about these conservation efforts please visit the Wildlife Conservation Society, https://www.wcs.org/.
Along the boardwalk. The exterior of the new $158 million, 57,500 square foot exhibit building on Coney Island. Photograph courtesy New York Aquarium.