Sea Change

How Caribbean Journey transforms the Texas State Aquarium

By: Seamus McAfee

The Texas State Aquarium’s Caribbean Journey opens in May 2017, and the largest expansion in the aquarium’s 27-year history means millions of guests will soon be rewarded with a new exciting and educational experience.

After three years of planning and 30 months of construction, Caribbean Journey is in its final phases, and the space is really starting to take shape. Coral and stonework have been completed, the underwater exhibits are being filled with seawater and a 150-foot wide glass skylight has been installed.

Most of Caribbean Journey’s animals, including flamingos, tropical fish, reptiles and a sloth, have arrived and are being acclimated to their new home. Tropical plants and trees are being planted for an authentic-looking Caribbean jungle that provides a natural habitat for birds and reptiles.

Caribbean Journey provides an unforgettable adventure through the jungles and seas of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Preserve in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – and all without having to get wet.

Travel through immersive habitats depicting the jungles and seas of the Caribbean, and encounter sharks, bats, crocodiles and other exotic species around every bend. Along the jungle pathway, a flock of vibrant pink flamingos lounge in a lagoon, iguanas roam freely and bright tropical birds fly among the trees. In a mangrove forest, fish dart among the underwater roots while shorebirds forage on land. Crocodiles lurk in the Karst pool, and a slow-moving sloth lounges on a nearby branch.

Within the Mayan ruins, reptiles and bats wait in the dark, while several overlooks provide a glimpse at sharks and tropical fish swimming below. In the downstairs floor, countless reef fish and coral of every shape and color create a magnificent underwater landscape. In the 400,000-gallon H-E-B Caribbean shark exhibit, an acrylic tunnel crosses through an ancient shipwreck and features encounters with reef sharks from just inches away.

Caribbean Journey’s exhibits are just one part of the guest experience. A 4-D Theater with 100 interactive seats adds another layer of fun. Premiering the BBC’s “Sharks,” theater seats employ unique special effects that make theatergoers feel like they’re swimming right alongside the ocean’s most infamous predators.

A top-floor event space in Caribbean Journey also features a stunning view of the Caribbean jungle exhibit on one side and the Corpus Christi Bayfront on the other. Dance above sharks and tropical fish through an acyclic window in the floor, or just gaze out in either direction at the breathtaking sights.

A luxurious private dining room with seating for up to 300 people is available for weddings, parties and other private events. This dining room’s ornate ceiling adds a touch of class to even the most formal gatherings while a wall of glass windows lets natural light in and give another breathtaking view out at the city.

Caribbean Journey doubles the aquarium size and establishes it as one of the largest in the nation, which means big things for the aquarium’s mission to engage people with animals, inspire appreciation for our seas and support wildlife conservation.

Guests of the aquarium may not know it, but they are helping to support several conservation and education programs. Part of their admission goes to the aquarium’s Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Program, which rehabilitates and releases injures birds and marine mammals.

The Wildlife Care, Conservation and Research Fund (WCCR) helps finance vital research projects in the Gulf of Mexico, and there are plans to expand the fund to support the work of scientists in the Yucatan region of Mexico. The aquarium also currently reaches more than 75,000 students and teachers each year through its education programs, and it plans to engage even more young learners with Caribbean Journey.

Purchasing a ticket or membership to the aquarium is a conservation action, but we hope Caribbean Journey will inspire you to go even beyond that. With half a day to explore Caribbean Journey and the rest of the aquarium, there’s more time to soak in the wonders of ocean life. Ultimately you’ll walk away not only awed and entertained, but with a greater appreciation of the environment and the need to conserve it.

Caribbean Journey helps the aquarium boost its own conservation efforts, but it makes the biggest difference by also encouraging millions of others to do their part and build a brighter future for the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and beyond.

For more information about Caribbean Journey, visit www.texasstateaquarium.org/caribbean. You may also contact Seamus McAfee at 361-881-1259 or smcafee@txstateaq.org.

Photos courtesy of Texas State Aquarium