There’s a new reason to visit Coney Island this summer: After years of planning, the New York Aquarium’s major exhibit, “Ocean Wonder: Sharks!,” finally debuts this weekend. A swanky 57,500-square-foot pavilion, situated right on the boardwalk, will house marine animals, including some of the exhibit’s titular saw-toothed predators.
The Aquarium, which moved from Battery Park to Coney Island in the 1950s, has been working toward opening a shark-focused exhibit for more than a decade. In fact, the pavilion received funding in 2012, and was due to break ground in the fall of that year—right before Hurricane Sandy hit.
The superstorm ravaged the Aquarium, with floodwaters invading exhibits and many of its residents—fish, sharks, and even a baby walrus—being relocated for a few years. Though parts of it have since reopened, “Ocean Wonders” is the first major post-Sandy development for the Aquarium, which is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
And it’s quite a building: The pavilion is made from precast concrete, but its exterior is covered in a 1,100-foot “shimmer wall,” created from tens of thousands of aluminum pieces. The whole thing takes its inspiration from the ocean that’s right at its door, from the kinetic nature of the shimmer wall to the shape of the pavilion, which resembles a nautilus shell.
It’s also a bold new presence on the boardwalk. The building cantilevers over the walkway, and a new roof area (soon to have a bar and restaurant) gives visitors a sense of connection to the neighborhood beyond. Susan Chin, the WCS’s chief architect and one of the designers of the exhibit, called its connection to the Coney Island community “transformative.”
“The architecture evokes the natural world and reflects the function within; an engaging exhibit that connects people to the ocean and inspires their stewardship,” Chin said in a statement.
Inside, the new pavilion has many cool new displays on offer, including a coral reef tunnel where sharks swim all around you, and a “canyon’s edge,” which brings visitors to a precipice where huge ocean animals—including sharks and sting rays—swim by. It’s immersive and educational, as any good museum exhibit should be.
“The exhibit inspires awe and admiration for sharks and opens our visitors’ eyes to what they truly are—keystone species in the world’s ocean which, as top predators, helps to regulate the populations of other species, bringing a vital balance to a healthy ocean,” WCS CEO Cristián Samper said in a press release. “The exhibit will connect millions of visitors with the wildlife and habitats in New York waters and expands the Wildlife Conservation Society’s global commitment to shark and ray conservation.”