‘Sharks’ and ‘Green Sea Turtles’ break ground for Pacific Seas Aquarium

aquarium groundbreaking hanberg

Who better to break ground on an aquarium than the children who will be mesmerized by the green sea turtles, hammerhead sharks and eagle rays that will swim in it?

“This new aquarium will allow kids and teens like me to discover sea life and care about our oceans,” Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Youth Volunteer Lauren Wilson said on July 11 during a ceremonial groundbreaking celebration.

The Pacific Seas Aquarium is due to open in the summer of 2018.

The $51.6 million building will replace the aging North Pacific Aquarium, which opened in 1963.

As its name implies, exhibits in the Pacific Seas Aquarium will cover broad expanses of ocean, from the cold depths of Puget Sound all the way down to the warm waters of Mexico. The signature feature of the 35,000-square-foot building will be the 250,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit, featuring species like scalloped hammerhead sharks, green sea turtles and spotted eagle rays – all new animals to visitors at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.


The new aquarium also will incorporate the animals that now reside in the North Pacific Aquarium. That building will eventually be repurposed.

“We are confident that this new aquarium will wow our community and region for decades,” Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners President Erik Hanberg said during the ceremony. Its construction was made possible by the generosity of the voters of Tacoma, who approved money for it in a 2014 bond issue election.

The Pacific Seas Aquarium is the largest capital project in the 109-year history of Metro Parks Tacoma.

Speakers and some guests wore hard hats festooned with hammerhead shark faces and fins or green sea turtle faces and “wings,” but it was the kids – plus Herald the dog – in costume – who stole the show.

A parade of excited children wound their way through the zoo’s grounds from the Pacific Rim Plaza near the main gate to the aquarium site near the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater.

They danced to ocean-themed music along the way, and some used clownfish-shaped bubble blowers to add an even more festive atmosphere to an occasion that has been more than two years in the making.

After a few remarks, it was time to break ground, and six children and a youth volunteer in shark and sea turtle costumes grabbed brightly colored blue, green, yellow and red kid-sized shovels to do the honors.

In just two years, everyone will be back for the grand opening of the Pacific Seas Aquarium, and zoo visitors will indeed be “wowed” by the 250,000-gallon Baja Bay as sharks and sea turtles swim gracefully by. The expansive window will arch over the heads of guests, giving them the feeling of immersion in the waters of Baja California.

There will be lots to see, ponder and do in the new aquarium.


What visitors now know as the Marine Discovery Center will morph into a new, expanded Tidal Touch Zone, with emphasis on hands-on and up-close experiences for people of all ages. But the focus will undeniably be on the families, young children and schoolchildren who will be the guardians of the world’s oceans in the future.

There also will be a Tidal Surge area with moving wave action to welcome visitors to the aquarium; a Schooling Fish exhibit; a Giant Spider Crabs exhibit; a window into the world beneath the Tacoma Narrows bridges; a tank that showcases deep-dwelling ocean animals; a Coastal Kelp Forest; Estuary Tank; educational and laboratory space; several conservation stations; and the Waves of Change area where visitors can learn to become stewards of the oceans.

“In building this new aquarium, our goal is to create a generation of passionate ocean conservationists,” said Gary Geddes, director of Zoological and Environmental Education for Metro Parks Tacoma. When members of the public connect with the exciting new species and learn about the perils many animals face in the world’s oceans, they will be inspired to work to reduce pollution and take other conservation actions, he added.


Turner Construction, which has a deep knowledge and long history in aquarium construction around the world, is the General Contractor/Construction Manager on the Pacific Seas Aquarium.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium LogoThe aquarium is also the largest project under the umbrella of Destination Point Defiance, a long-term comprehensive planning initiative to enhance the experience and honor the character of Point Defiance Park.


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