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Sea Change at NY Aquarium
Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS/NY Aquarium

The New York Aquarium is finally fully open after Sandy repairs

There's a grand reopening event today!

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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Superstorm Sandy devastated New York City, destroying homes and businesses, but it also flooded the New York Aquarium so badly that parts of it have been closed to the public for the past decade.

Now, after completely rebuilding these galleries with help from FEMA, New York State and New York City, NY Aquarium is finally reopening in full, complete with a new climate change exhibit called "Sea Change."

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Today, July 1, leaders held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening and kicked off a day full of fun, including a sea life puppet parade, sea lion celebrations, a shark training session, a penguin chat and a sand sculpture unveiling. It all happens through this afternoon.

"This reopening is testament to the resiliency of the New York Aquarium, the staff, the Coney Island community, and the City of New York," said Craig Piper, the director of WCS City Zoos and interim director of the New York Aquarium. "Not only have we now fully reopened our exhibits, but we have also upgraded much of the aquarium’s infrastructure and critical systems to ensure we are better prepared to withstand future storms."

Each building and exhibit had to be restored one at a time and included projects to protect vital systems from future storms, including upgrading and moving water pumps, filters, and other elements for the life support systems. Generators were installed to ensure power outages don't affect these vital systems.

You can see in the photos below, just how flooded parts of the aquarium were:

NY Aquarium Sandy flooding
Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS/NY Aquarium | Flooding from Hurricane Sandy
NY Aquarium hurricane sandy flooding
Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS/NY Aquarium | Flooding from Hurricane Sandy

The NY Aquarium has taken this extremely devastating experience and created a new exhibit around the changing climate and its impact on marine ecosystems called "Sea Change." The exhibit is in the space beneath the Sea Cliffs exhibit and features underwater viewing of the California sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters and African penguins. This is the final public exhibit to reopen from damage by Sandy, the aquarium says.

In 2018, "Ocean Wonders: Sharks!" officially opened to the public. It wasn't part of the storm damage, but the groundbreaking for the building was scheduled for the same week that Sandy hit, the aquarium says. 

Then in 2020, "Spineless" opened as the first exhibit to open in a restored building.

This year, PlayQuarium opened in the same building as Spineless. Its opening was delayed by the pandemic. The aquarium’s Seaside Café re-opened this year, too—it had been massively damaged during the storm in 2012 and had been closed since.

Now, you can see all of it—"Spineless," the PlayQuarium, "Ocean Wonders: Sharks!" Glover’s Reef, the Conservation Hall, the Sea Cliffs, the Aquatheater, the Seaside Café and more—in full.

"Today is a significant milestone in the recovery of New York City’s only aquarium,” said John F. Calvelli, WCS' executive vice president of public affairs. "The devastation from Superstorm Sandy a decade ago is almost unimaginable when looking today at the beautiful exhibits and thriving marine wildlife. As a cornerstone of the Coney Island community and an important economic driver, it is a wonderful feeling to be fully reopened."

Sea Change NY Aquarium
Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS/NY Aquarium
Sea Change NY Aquarium
Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS/NY Aquarium

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