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Puffins, penguins, and sea lions, oh my! Florida Aquarium announces $40M expansion plan

The three-phase expansion will begin in January 2023, with completion of the last part planned for 2025.

The Florida Aquarium is going to undergo its largest expansion since it opened in 1995.

The $40 million project will include new exhibits featuring California sea lions, African penguins, and puffins.

Florida Aquarium President and CEO Roger Germann said bringing in new species like these can help with their work with native animals.

"I think diversifying our collection here ... is working on the global stage of what an aquarium like ours should be. And I think being able to connect people around the world is really, really important," he said. "Our purpose is to save wildlife from extinction."

"That conservation message around California sea lions is very similar to what we see here in our own backyard with manatees. Many of their struggles are about food source depletion, many of their struggles are about interactions of habitat loss, all the same kind of concepts and issues."

The three-phase expansion will begin in January 2023, with completion of the last part planned for 2025.

Phase one will turn existing ballroom space in the Mosaic Center into a 3,700-square-foot exhibit hall.

Phase two will include a two-level, 45,000-gallon puffin habitat with 20 foot tall viewing windows.

The final phase will see the construction of three separate but interconnected sea lion spaces totaling over 200,000 gallons, along with a 39,000 gallon habitat for up to 30 African penguins.

Germann said that having a downtown aquarium that has a presence on the national stage helps strengthen Tampa as well.

"When we're able to do expansions like this, when we're able to innovate, when we're able to redefine and re-imagine the experience here, that goes into how we connect with our community, and again, raise all boats from economics and tourism to environmental stewardship," he said.

The project was led by architectural design firm Space Haus, which has worked with Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, the National Aquarium of New Zealand, and the Dallas and Kansas City Zoos.

Germann said he hopes once the expansion is complete, attendance at the aquarium will increase to a million guests annually.

He added that fundraising is already underway for the expansion, starting with admission and donation money they already have.

"As we look forward, we will do an official campaign launch ... and will look for opportunities to engage both public and private partners in helping support us moving forward," he said. "Based on our current commitments and our current financial situation, today's announcement comes with a lot of confidence that we will be able to complete this project in the next three, 3 1/2 years."

Timeline over top of rendering of a large aquarium
Florida Aquarium
Space Haus
The three phase expansion at Florida Aquarium will get underway in Jan. 2023 and conclude in 2025.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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