If you haven’t visited the Greater Cleveland Aquarium in a while — or especially if your family has yet to visit this local gem — now is a great time to dive in, as GCA is in the midst of completing $250,000 in mission-driven upgrades.
Beginning earlier this year and continuing through spring 2019, the project includes enhancements to experiences, animal life support system upgrades and the introduction of a dozen new species — several of which arrived earlier this month. The improvements will touch key exhibit areas and two breakout areas, making up nearly 75% of the GCA’s public space.
On a recent visit with my family, my 4-year-old son loved playing “new species scavenger hunt” as we searched for the aquarium’s newest residents. New species on exhibit thus far into the upgrade process include green tree python, frilled lizard, Solomon Island leaf frog, weedy seadragons, and Pacific spiny lumpsuckers.
Coming later this year or in early 2019 are: four-eyed fish, poison dart frog, flashlight fish, garden eels, lookdown, live coral and clownfish. (So if your kids, like mine, are always hunting for “Nemo,” they will be able to find him soon!)
Aside from new species, visitors can now see the completed Invasive Species Hut, and Asia & Indonesia Gallery. The first phase of upgrades, which is nearly complete, also includes the development of a Coastal Boardwalk around the stingray touch pool and the second floor Exploration Station’s conversion from an open craft and storytelling area to an Imagiquarium — an imaginative play space where young children can pretend they are aquarists, SCUBA divers or exhibit designers.
On our visit, we spent almost as much time upstairs in the Imagiquarium as we did in the galleries and exhibits below. Our 2-year-old son loved playing in the seaweed, climbing in the rock structure, and examining the rubber coral, which is the same type used in the aquarium’s tanks. Our older son really got into the experience, donning a “SCUBA mask” and scrub brush to clean the “tank,” just as we’d seen divers doing in the Shark Gallery downstairs. The plush eels and sharks also provided entertainment, as the boys loved making them swim in and out of the rock structure.
I have to give a shout out to Guest Experience Associate Justin, who was working in the Imagiquarium during our visit. He answered our 4-year-old’s seemingly endless questions with knowledge and enthusiasm, even engaging in pretend play with our kids. Plus, he speaks “toddler,” as he was able to quickly answer our youngest son’s question, “I eat this?” with a quick, “No, you can’t eat the coral.”
What’s next for the project? The renovations will continue in stages throughout the 12-month period so the aquarium can stay open throughout the capital improvement process with minimal distractions for guests. Future phases will involve the classroom, and the Rainforest and Industry & Habitats areas. Also, look for a revamped website at greaterclevelandaquarium.com.