Georgia Aquarium is hailed as the "world's largest aquarium'', and located in Atlanta, Georgia. The aquarium holds approximately 8.1 million gallons of fresh and salt water and is home to more than 100,000 animals representing 500 species. Most notable specimens of the aquarium are a manta ray, 3 beluga whales and 4 young whale sharks. With a $250 million donation from Bernie Marcus, Home Depot founder, the aquarium was constructed on 20-acres north of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.
Bernard Marcus announced his idea to construct an aquarium as a present to the city of Atlanta, Georgia in November, 2001. It was Marcus' hope that the aquarium would encourage educational and economic growth. After visiting 56 aquariums in 13 countries to research and gain design inspiration, Marcus donated money towards construction. Along with contributions from AirTran Airways, UPS, Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, Bellsouth, Georgia Pacific, Home Depot and Southern Company, the facility opened debt-free.
The Georgia Aquarium opened on November 21st, 2005 to annual passholders, with 60 animal habitats, 2 food service courts, gift shops, a 4-D theater, an on-site restaurant, parking lot and 16,400 square feet of ball room space. On November 23rd, 2005 the aquarium opened to the general public, and welcomed its 1 millionth visitor on March 1st, 2006. Since that time, the aquarium welcomed its 3 millionth visitor on August 24th, 2006, and its 5 millionth on May 23rd, 2007.
The aquatic animals are displayed in 5 different galleries: the Georgia Explorer, Tropical Diver, Ocean Voyager, Cold-Water Quest and River Scout. Each gallery corresponds to a specific region and contains a wide diversity of marine life.
Entering the aquarium guests will encounter the Georgia Explorer Exhibit, which is geared towards children. The exhibit features a series of touch tanks with rays and sharks, and displays with sea turtles and the wildlife of Gray's Reef, a National Marine Sanctuary located off the coast of Georgia.
The second exhibit area is River Scout, which showcases regional environments. The display features an overhead tank where guests can view North American fish from bottom side up. Also featured here are piranhas, electric fish and many other unusual types of freshwater creatures.
Cold Water Quest displays animals from the Polar region and contains most of the mammals in the aquariums collection. Included in the aquariums second largest habitat are beluga whales, California sea lions, African black-footed penguins and Japanese spider-crabs.
The Ocean Voyager exhibit contains the largest amount of water and more than 100,000 fish. The exhibit is devoted to featuring the life of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. The exhibit highlights the aquariums whale sharks, and has a 100 foot long underwater tunnel and the world's second largest viewing portal.
Tropical Diver takes an aquatic turn and features several curious and mysterious forms of aquatic creatures, including a living reef and live coral. Here visitors encounter garden eels, sea horses, and fairy basslets and yellow-head jawfish. Also featured are 3 exhibits devoted to jellyfish and thousands of colorful reef fish.
The aquarium also has a -D movie theater and many other attractions, including the Ocean-Voyager Journey with Giants exhibit hall. The Chedd-Angier-Lewis production company produced the Open Ocean Touchwall, is an interactive projection used for species identification purposes. The virtual aquarium springs to life with a fully articulated 3-D rendering of open ocean fish swimming across 6 panels designed to simulate a tank. Visitors are invited to reach out and place their hands or fingers on the fish and interactive bubbles appear to help educate guests about the species of fish they are touching.
The Georgia Aquarium is opened 365 days a year and the hours of operation are Sunday through Friday from 10 am until 5 pm, and on Saturday from 9 am until 6 pm. The aquarium is fully handicapped accessible, tickets are available on a first-come first-serve basis and ticket booths close one hour before closing time.