The world's largest aquarium is located in Atlanta, Georgia. It houses more than 120,000 animals, representing 500 species in 8.5 million gallons of water. There are 60 different habitats with 12,000 square feet of viewing windows, and it cost $290 million to build.
Georgia Aquarium was the result of the vision of one enterprising businessman Bernard Marcus, who dreamed of presenting Atlanta with an aquarium that would encourage both education and economic growth. Marcus was so inspired by aquariums that after visiting 56 of them in 13 countries with his wife, he donated $250 million toward what was to become Georgia Aquarium. Additional $40 million came in as corporate donations. The land was donated by the Coca Cola Company.
The Georgia Aquarium has five separate galleries arranged around a central atrium. They are Georgia Explorer, Tropical Diver, Ocean Voyager, Cold-Water Quest and River Scout. Tanks within the galleries house a diverse population of animals, including whales, sharks, penguins, otters, electric eels, rays, seahorses, sea stars, crabs and a variety of fish of all sizes.
The Ocean Voyager tank, the largest habitat, holds three-fourths of the aquarium's water and the aquarium's central attraction – the whale shark. A slow-moving conveyor belt takes visitors through a 100-foot acrylic tunnel under the tank, letting them view the fish from below. Other aquarium exhibits include the 800,000 gallon beluga whale enclosure, smaller tanks and multiple touch tanks where visitors can get hands-on experience with aquatic animals.
Building and running such a huge complex is no easy task. The organization employs hundreds of staff that take care of everything from feeding the animals to cleaning the tanks, assisted by many dozens of computers that monitors tank levels, temperatures and pumping flow, all of which are critical to animal health and system operation.
Below are some statistics that will give you an idea of the scale of operation in this gigantic facility:
- To fill the tanks, the aquarium pipes 8 million gallons of ordinary tap water mixed with 1.5 million pounds of salt to make it saline.
- 218 pumps, 141 sand filters and 70 protein skimmers keep the tank waters clean and habitable. These pumps move 261,000 gallons of water per minute. The tank turnover time -- the amount of time it takes for all the water in a tank to be filtered and cleaned – is two hours.
- To store food for the animals, the aquarium has a freezer that holds 20,000 pounds of food as well as a refrigerator that holds 6,000 pounds.
- To treat sick animals, the Georgia Aquarium has a veterinary services and conservation medicine facility in a 5,800 square foot unit with 15 people on staff, and it houses 26 treatment tanks (think hospital beds). The unit is fully equipped with a surgery and radiography unit with endoscopy, ultrasound and x-ray machines.