Coney Island’s New York Aquarium – Adapting And Educating For An Ocean Friendly NY·
I took the F train to Coney Island on New Year’s Day to pay a visit with some friends to the New York Aquarium. A long established institution with tired infrastructure, it was my first visit there since many new improvements began to take shape, most prominently in the form of a massive new exhibit, “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!”. The sheer size and hyper-modern architecture of the exhibit compared to its comparatively dated surroundings immediately signaled that this was the beginning of a radical change that would transform the aquarium I grew up with into something unknown. At first, I couldn’t help but compare it to the physical and cultural change that has spread over much of New York over the last ten or twenty years, during which the brick and limestone architecture of the past has been paved over for a future of towering chrome plated condos peppered with amenities. The new shark exhibit even has a rooftop bar! And for a moment the squawking penguins in the older and more humble exhibit next door almost resembled a group of disgruntled protesters rallying against such new developments in their neighborhood.
Now I don’t think the penguins have anything to worry about. But the aquarium IS changing in a way that visually resembles many of the changes NYC has experienced in recent years, and it will not stop with this new shark exhibit. So as I walked from display to display, some questions came to mind: What are the driving forces behind this new development and the other changes taking place? What do they signal about the aquarium’s vision for the future and its mission as a center for the ocean? And are these developments simply an extension of the changes NYC has experienced, or something deeper and entirely its own? By the end of the day, I would realize that the comparisons with changes affecting the rest of the city were no more than visual. That in contrast to a world where the words “green” and “sustainable” are more often used as a fashion label rather than to effect real environmental action (see “greenwashing”), the aquarium’s new developments seem to arise from both a genuine desire to encourage a more environmentally friendly world, as well as out of a need to adapt to multiple pressures that may threaten its very survival.
Photo: Brian Yurasits