Aquarium debuts crown jewel with Caribbean Journey

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A report by Julie García for the Corpus Cristi Caller-Times.

The Texas State Aquarium is world-class and unique to South Texas, but the president has a message for the community.

“Even though we’re the Texas State Aquarium, and we serve the entire state and nation, we’re also the Corpus Christi aquarium,” said Tom Schmid, the president and CEO of the institution. “There’s so many opportunities for the community to come in and enjoy this space and work with our team.”

Saturday marks a historic day for the aquarium as it opens its $60 million, 71,000 square-foot Caribbean Journey expansion. The aquarium’s largest project to date brings the sights and sounds of the Yucatan Peninsula to Corpus Christi’s North Beach attraction.

One of the largest parts of the expansion is the 400,000-gallon H-E-B Caribbean Sea Shark exhibit. A 68-foot tunnel display window, the largest in North America, brings visitors face-to-glass with a number of shark species. The exhibit also includes a life-size replica of a shipwreck that hosts barracudas, stingrays and a green sea turtle or two, according to a news release.

Other exhibits in the expansion include the Coral Reef, the Blue Hole Marine Cavern and a Caribbean jungle.

The Coral Reef exhibit features the underwater landscapes of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system, which also is known as the Great Mayan (or Maya) Reef. Dozens of families of fish, including angel, butterfly, and surgeon, can be found in the reef system.

The Blue Hole marine cavern lets visitors experience the feeling of diving hundreds of feet below sea level. A large display window allows glimpses of the creatures that live there, like tarpons, nurse sharks and palometa jacks.

The Caribbean jungle setting grows in the middle of the expansion and features a skylight ceiling that admits natural light. Birds fly free in the exhibit, while crocodiles lurk in a nearby pool. A separate, larger pool that criss-crosses the jungle gives visitors glimpses of darting fish, while the corners of the jungle feature replicas of Mayan ruins, which double as a habitat for vampire bats.

Other highlights of the expansion also includes the new Whataburger 100-seat 4-D theater and the Citgo Skyline View event venue and a new Flint Hills Resources Center for Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education.  .

The aquarium’s core mission is conservation, Schmid said.

“We engage people with animals here at the aquarium and inspire them in their appreciation for the environment,” Schmid said. “Hopefully, they’ll take action to protect and conserve the environment.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Caribbean Journey expansion grand opening
  • When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 13
  • Where: Texas State Aquarium, 2710 North Shoreline Blvd.
  • Tickets: $24.95-$34.95; children 2 years old or younger are free
  • Parking: Free

Caribbean Journey’s wildlife

  • Reef sharks
  • Caribbean flamingos
  • Vampire bats
  • Jamaican fruit bats
  • Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth, Xena
  • Brazilian agoutis
  • Keel-billed toucans
  • Macaws
  • Boa constrictors
  • Poison dart frogs
  • Scarlet ibises
  • Morolet’s crocodiles

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