Photos by Josh Crow
Think shipwrecks, coral reefs, dozens of Nemos, bull sharks, huge (like, massive) turtles. Wish you were touring the Caribbean now? Why? There is no need to drain your saving’s account when all that and more is right around the corner at the local Oklahoma Aquarium. After adding several new projects and events, the aquarium is now more colorful than ever before.
On Saturday, Sept. 22, a packed-out crowd gathered together to observe the aquarium’s brand new collection of sea creatures. The exhibit was more than a year in the making. The Oklahoma Aquarium unveiled more than 70 species of South Pacific reef fish in brand new tanks.
The opening of the reef doubled as a celebration for the 15-year anniversary of the aquarium. As Tulsans sipped their festive tea and munched on their sweet (oh, so sweet) rolls, Chief Operating Officer Kenny Alexopoulos and his team cut the ribbon of the new Polynesian exhibit.
What is now the Polynesian Reef was previously a Caribbean exhibit that had been built more than a decade ago on a much smaller budget of about $15,000.
“We came when this was just kind of grass and trees and mud,” said Alexopoulos, who has been working at the aquarium for about 18 years. Over time, their facility and budget has grown large enough to be able to support the new reef and plans for more. With staff keeping a tank-half-full mindset, the aquarium grew into a vibrant economic driver and touristic hotspot.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the aquarium staff emphasized the importance this reef has to the second word in their mission statement–education. As several children ran around the aquarium and sat perched atop the shoulders of their parents to witness the unveiling of the reef, it was apparent that the aquarium has truly fostered a learning environment.
The tank features a collage of interesting creatures like the juvenile green dragon wrasse that can camouflage into algae. There are also soldierfish and squirrelfish that sport night-vision powers, rabbitfish who are armed and dangerous with their venomous spines hidden in their dorsal fins and, of course, the unicornfish that looks exactly the way one would imagine.
Hard to miss in the corner of the exhibit is a giant moray eel weaving in and out of a man-made shipwreck. Its predatory nature is even better enjoyed when accompanied by the “Jaws” theme song–after all, it does carry a second set of jaws within its throat to help pull the prey into its stomach.
While money has always been an object for this nonprofit, they aim to continue building new exhibits, and their mission is “to educate and inspire conservation of our aquatic world through interactive discovery.”
“I really want to thank the city of Jenks for believing in this facility and standing by us and allowing us to grow and allowing us to do our thing,” said Alexopoulos. “I know they’re not going to regret this.”