The Georgia Aquarium is a public aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. It houses more than a hundred thousand animals and represents several thousand species, all of which reside in 10 million US gallons (38,000 m3) of marine and salt water. It was the largest aquarium in the world from its opening in 2005 until 2012, when it was surpassed by Marine Life Park in Singapore.
Businessman Bernard Marcus credits his 60th birthday dinner, held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with inspiring him to build a great aquarium for Atlanta; his subsequent $250 million donation provided the bulk of the money needed to build and stock the new facility.
In November 2001, Bernard Marcus announced his vision of presenting Atlanta with an aquarium that would encourage both education and economic growth. After visiting 56 aquariums in 13 countries with his wife, Billi, he donated $250 million toward what was to become Georgia Aquarium. Corporate contributions totaling an additional $40 million allowed the aquarium to open debt-free.
Jeff Swanagan, the Aquarium’s founding president and executive director until 2008, is largely credited with the creation of the aquarium, from the design of the structure to the procurement of animals for the exhibits.
The aquarium is in downtown Atlanta on land donated by The Coca-Cola Company, just north of Centennial Olympic Park and near the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center, Philips Arena, and CNN Center. Its blue metal-and-glass exterior is meant to evoke a giant ark breaking through a wave. The world’s largest when it opened in November 2005. At that time the aquarium encompassed 550,000 square feet (5.1 ha; 13 acres) of covered space and its exhibits held 8,000,000 US gallons (30,000 m3) of fresh and salt water. Subsequent additions to the collection and redesign of some habitats have increased the total water held to 10 million US gallons.
After 27 months of construction the aquarium opened on November 21, 2005, with 60 animal habitats. Though the non-profit aquarium’s admission charges are among the highest in the United States, attendance has far exceeded expectations, with 1 million visitors in the first 100 days, 3 million by August 2006, 5 million by May 2007, and 10 million by June 2009. The aquarium is part of the Smithsonian Affiliations program.
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