Inside the largest aquarium in the United States: the Georgia Aquarium

The Georgia Aquarium began with Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus. Marcus wanted to give the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia a gift that would encourage education and economic growth.

In November 2001, he announced plans to build an aquarium in downtown Atlanta. He and his wife Billi donated $250 million to build the Georgia Aquarium.

But they didn’t do it alone. Marcus and the aquarium staff visited 56 aquariums in 13 countries to research and gather ideas. They also received financial contributions from AirTran Airways, BellSouth, Georgia-Pacific, The Home Depot, Southern Company and SunTrust Bank, which sponsored the aquarium’s five aquatic galleries and its 4-D theater.

Turner Broadcasting System sponsored the learning loop. People contributed through the Aquarium’s FishScales program, and other companies, like UPS, made in-kind donations. Even the land was a donation: 9 acres (3.6 hectares) came from The Coca-Cola Company.

Thanks to all this financial assistance, the aquarium was able to open debt-free.

Groundbreaking for the aquarium took place in May 2003 and opened to the public on November 23, 2005. Construction of the 550,000 square foot (51,096.7 square meter) facility took only 27 months.

In addition to animal habitats, the aquarium houses a gift shop and a 4D theater. It also has a 16,400 square foot (1,523 square meter) ballroom and catering kitchens.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, which must precisely maintain the temperature around the animals’ habitats, can make 9,000 decisions per minute and has a capacity equivalent to 1,200 average-sized homes.

More than 200 people work at the aquarium and approximately 1,000 trained volunteers donate their time. The aquarium has security personnel as well as 99 video cameras and 97 proximity card readers.

Anyone visiting the aquarium must pass a security check and guns, knives, matches and lighters are not allowed inside. To further protect fish safety, the aquarium prohibits straws (which can be harmful if thrown into exhibits) at the on-site restaurant, Café Aquaria.

Marcus and the aquarium staff hope the aquarium will be completely self-sustaining, able to support itself through entry fees and rental of the ballroom and other meeting spaces.

Artists and architects

Built to American Zoo and Aquarium Association standards, the design and construction of the Georgia Aquarium included:

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