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A 3-story aquarium is rising along a Florida highway. What’s going inside? Take a look

In World
April 08, 2024

Over the next several months, the towering multi-story building near a Florida shopping mall should begin to look less like a construction site and more like an aquarium.

This time next year, the $130 million Mote Science Education Aquarium should be open to visitors if everything goes according to plan. The aquarium is being build near Interstate 95 in Sarasota County.

Ahead of a scheduled early 2025 opening, construction is ramping up on the aquarium, known as Mote SEA, which promises to be a resource for marine science education “unlike any other experience in the country,” according to a Mote spokesperson.

“This is something that’s going to bring state-of-the-art science and marine STEM to this area,” said Aly Busse, Mote Education’s associate vice president. “It’s going to be something that isn’t available to students anywhere else.”

The long-awaited complex, which was first announced in 2018, had been delayed due to the pandemic and funding, but it is starting to come together. With exterior panels set to be installed across the outside of the building starting in a couple of weeks, an aquarium spokesperson said it will look “almost complete” from the outside.

But there’s still work to be done on the 110,000-square-foot, three-story building with a futuristic design that sits on 12 acres near Interstate 75 near the Manatee-Sarasota line.

The complex will feature more than a million gallons of water.

How the Mote aquarium is coming together in Florida

As of March, those 1 million gallons are one step closer to becoming a reality, as teams at Mote finished installing all exhibit acrylic panels and filled the habitats with water to test for any potential leaks.

Those acrylic panels include two massive ones for the Gulf of Mexico habitat: a 400,000-gallon tank that will provide an expansive view of coral reef formations, sharks, rays, sea turtles and a variety of fish.

The most recent rendering provided by Mote Marine of the final look of the new Mote SEA under construction near the UTC Mall.

The most recent rendering provided by Mote Marine of the final look of the new Mote SEA under construction near the UTC Mall.

In this exhibit, guests will learn how Mote scientists are working to protect and conserve the Gulf of Mexico.

Seeing the space come together has brought the project “to life” for Busse, who said an emphasis on learning willset Mote SEA apart from other zoos and aquariums.

Science education is a priority, Mote says

Mote SEA will feature three STEM teaching laboratories, where nearly 70,000 students from Sarasota and Manatee counties will get free hands-on marine science education.

“Most aquariums are really focused on bringing the animals to life, but we’re really going to bring that education to life here too,” Busse said.

The goal is to get every student from Manatee County schools into the STEM labs in the first year, according to Amber Platowski, a curriculum coordinator for Manatee County schools.

This may be a “lofty goal,” Platowski said, but she said the STEM labs are going to be an incredible resource for both the school district and the community.

The interior of Mote SEA’s atrium under construction near the UTC Mall during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024. Mote anticipates opening in early 2025.

The interior of Mote SEA’s atrium under construction near the UTC Mall during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024. Mote anticipates opening in early 2025.

“A lot of what we do is focus our students as the next generation of learners on the importance of conservation and science education, as we know they’re going to be the ones that are going to be at the forefront of dealing with all sorts of changes in our local ecosystem,” Platowski said.

The three STEM laboratories, which an aquarium spokesperson said have made great progress in recent months, will be divided into an ocean technology lab, a marine ecology lab and a biomedical lab.

Mote SEA set to open in 2025

Mote has reached more than $107 million of its $130 million goal to open the aquarium. The facility is projected to attract more than 700,000 people in its opening year — more than double the current attendance at Mote Aquarium on City Island.

The aquarium is also expected to provide approximately $28 million annually in economic benefits, according to a spokesperson.

The final concrete pour inside the building is expected to happen later this month.

Those looking to learn more about Mote SEA are invited to attend the organization’s SEAsonal Tasting event on April 17 at Nathan Benderson Finishing Tower, where guests will get a panoramic view of Mote SEA’s development while talking to experts. A variety of small tastings and complimentary beer will also be served from neighboring UTC restaurants.

Workers at Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

Workers at Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

A worker goes over paperwork inside Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

A worker goes over paperwork inside Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

The exterior of Mote SEA near the UTC Mall during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024. Mote anticipates opening in early 2025.

The exterior of Mote SEA near the UTC Mall during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024. Mote anticipates opening in early 2025.

The UTC Mall is seen beyond work at Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

The UTC Mall is seen beyond work at Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

The exterior of Mote SEA near the UTC Mall during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024. Mote anticipates opening in early 2025.

The exterior of Mote SEA near the UTC Mall during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024. Mote anticipates opening in early 2025.

A welder works in the interior of the atrium of Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

A welder works in the interior of the atrium of Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

A worker is seen through metal framing in the interior of Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

A worker is seen through metal framing in the interior of Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

The interior of Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

The interior of Mote SEA during a media tour of the ongoing construction on Friday, April 5, 2024.

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