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Newly-Renovated South Building at Virginia Aquarium Offers Immersive Experience

Virginia Aquarium’s newly renovated South Building is now open (WYDaily/Jillian Appel)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Aquarium opened its newly renovated South Building to the public on Jan. 14.

Holding nearly 20,000 gallons of water and more than a dozen species, the South Building’s renovated spaces have immersive experiences with interactive exhibits, kids’ play areas, touch pools, an observable veterinary care center, interactive water quality lab, outdoor play areas and more.

The Aquarium’s South Building, previously known as the Marsh Pavilion, first opened in 1995 and was closed in 2018 for planned renovations to revamp and expand the entire facility. The construction process included a complete demolition of the inside, followed by the construction of a new wing, new and upgraded electrical components, replaced roof, fireproofing and the installation of all new exhibits.

After a complete $28.9 million renovation and expansion, the South Building features new animals including Pacific sea nettle jellyfish, decorator crabs, mantis shrimp, and cuttlefish, along with old favorites like the North American River Otters. Brand-new exhibits spotlight the superheroes of the marine world and the jellyfish lifecycle with a moon jelly touch pool.

“Wholistically, the building was designed to be an immersive experience that engages and inspires guests. The Jellies gallery can captivate a guest with jelly variations including upside-down jellies, Pacific sea nettle jellies, and the jelly lifecycle. This gallery engages guests with an interactive touch jelly touch pool featuring our moon jellies,” explained Kristina Scott, Public Relations Manager for Virginia Beach.

“The Undersea Super Powers Gallery was made to inspire guests with the incredible adaptations found in these animals. Every exhibit in this gallery is paired with a ‘superpower’ inspired by the animal, and an interactive element to engage guests related to that superpower. Our building is also home to a long-time favorite, our North American river otters,” she continued.

As a City of Virginia Beach asset, the project first appeared in the city’s capital improvements project in 2013. Over the next few years, the city’s partner, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation, raised $14 million from community members in support of the project.

Virginia Aquarium says that kids and adults can unleash their imaginations while playing the role of a veterinarian or field biologist in the Windows into Animal Care gallery — which also invites guests to observe real-life animal examinations on occasion and water quality testing through nearby windows. During the warmer months, guests can step outdoors to a playground with hands-on activities teaching the role of watersheds in the environment and the impacts humans have on our waterways.

“Our Windows into Animal Care has been an exciting update for guests and staff as well. This showcases our conservation efforts, veterinarian care, and water quality lab in one space, where guests can see our daily work. Beyond these windows are play areas for younger guests to unleash their imaginations while playing the role of a veterinarian or field biologist and teach about environmental science careers,” Scott commented.

“We are thrilled to welcome guests into our reimagined South Building. This space will expand our offerings and education programming, enhancing the overall guest experience,” said President and CEO Cynthia Whitbred-Spanoulis. “The building is designed to be a hands-on, interactive experience that engages all the senses, sparks curiosity for all ages, and inspires conservation of the marine environment.”

In addition to the new exhibits, the building will have an education hall for schools to utilize for field trips, and an outdoor amphitheater with elevated seating to accommodate a 200-person capacity for events, programs, and entertainment.

The South Building is accessible by walking the Nature Trail from the Virginia Aquarium’s North Building at 717 General Booth Blvd. or by using the south parking lot, which the South Building shares with The Adventure Park, at 801 General Booth Blvd.

For more information, visit the official Virginia Aquarium website.

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