Landlocked Utah is now home to the ninth-largest aquarium in the nation. After years of planning and preparation, the Draper location of the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium opened its doors to the public this week.
Suzy Broadbent with the Living Planet Aquarium says the $24 million project began when the CEO and designer of the new facility marine biologist Brent Andersen had the dream of bringing marine life to the desert state.
"He started out small, just with the aqua vans and the rain forest vans," said Broadbent. "But it became so popular and there was clearly enough interest that he opened up a small aquarium exhibit at the Gateway Mall."
Broadbent says the response to the small exhibit was overwhelming leading Andersen to renovate and open the larger, well-known exhibition in Sandy. She says the Sandy location, like the Salt Lake exhibit, was bursting at the seams with almost half a million visitors in a single year, which lead to the creation of the new aquarium.
The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium offers 74 exhibits, ranging from local aquatic life to "around-the world" exhibits and a massive shark tank with a walk-through tunnel.
"So the tunnel actually goes through the shark tank; it’s a forty-foot long tunnel that allows you to view up and around and you’ll see these sharks and all the marine life going up and around you," said Broadbent. "Everybody always stops in there for at least 10 to 15 minutes because you’ve never seen marine life at that view before."
Broadbent says old friends to the aquarium such as the otters and penguins are at the new location, but have improved and expanded living environments.
The new aquarium is 136,000 square feet, using a total of 500,000 gallons of water, the equivalent of 30 backyard swimming pools.