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Immersive new shipwreck exhibit coming to Newport Aquarium, represents more than $1M investment

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Newport Aquarium announces Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels, an extensive new exhibit that will open in spring 2020. 

Newport Aquarium Executive Director Eric Rose said input from guests was critical in planning of the new Realm of the Eels exhibit (photo by Mark Hansel).

“We’re always listening to our guests to figure out what new adventures they want in their next visit,” said Newport Aquarium Executive Director, Eric Rose. “To be able to create an artificial reef teeming with ocean life, thriving in a sunken ship is really going to wow them. But it’s not just the fun of this environment that we get excited about, it’s also the chance to teach visitors about the value of artificial reefs and ocean conservation.”

Guests will discover the ruins of a long-ago sunken ship scattered across the sea floor, now home to hundreds of animals including mysterious eels, brightly colored fish and curious crustaceans as they thrive in this accidental reef.

Input from visitors weighed heavily in the decision to go with a shipwreck theme.

“We’ve researched with our guests on what themes and stories they find fascinating and intriguing about the oceans and what animals they hold as very iconic,” Rose said. “The topic of shipwrecks came up very, very strongly, so the creative team and I worked on how we incorporate that into our newest exhibit. What makes this unique is the amount of storytelling we are doing.”

Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels will be one of the biggest developments since Newport Aquarium opened in 1999 and represents an investment of more than $1 million in the guest experience.

Newport Aquarium announces one its biggest exhibits ever, “Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels,” scheduled to open in spring 2020.

A flamboyant cuttlefish will be among the creatures living in the new Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels, exhibit, scheduled to open next year at Newport Aquarium (provided images).

The exhibit will allow guests to discover the ruins of a long-ago sunken ship scattered across the sea floor. It will fully transform the 20-year-old space previously known as Dangerous & Deadly into an open and immersive environment for guests to explore.

The demolition of the Dangerous and Deadly gallery will begin immediately.

“It’s 20 years old, it’s the last of our original exhibits, and that is going away, back to the walls,” Rose said. “We’ll have 100 percent new development of the shipwreck and theming. It will be a very immersive experience, it will take advantage of the really high ceilings and open area (with) a lot of theatrical lighting, a lot of stage props.”

Some of the features include a ship’s wheel, cannons, gold bullion strewn all over the floor, the cargo that the ship was carrying with small exhibit tanks and animals living within the cargo boxes.

Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels will feature five zones, each with its own unique ship elements and animals to discover including:

A rendering of the Captain’s Quarters, part of the Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels, exhibit at Newport Aquarium.

Captain’s Quarters: Rising up from the sea floor, the mast of the ship and tattered sails flow high above the remains of the captain’s quarters. A group of majestic green moray eels reaching up to 5 feet long have made their home there as masters of the ship. Nearby, the ship’s wheel awaits your turn as a fun photo opportunity with the eels and other residents including spiny lobsters and hundreds of fish.

Treasure Chest: The ship’s treasure was lost to the sea but has been found by beautiful jewel colored fish who now make the treasure chest their home. Step into their luxurious reef to be surrounded by 270 degrees of beautiful sea life and gleaming gold coins, a perfect spot to take a photo among the real treasures of the sea.

Cargo Hold: Fascinating animals thrive among the barrels and crates that held the ship’s cargo. Flamboyant cuttlefish with tentacles, undulating fins and mesmerizing color-changing camouflage scuttle about. Dozens of garden eels pop up from the sand and flow with the current while strange and colorful frogfish imitate corals as they await the approach of their next meal.

A rendering of the Anchor Tank, part of the new Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels, exhibit at Newport Aquarium.

 Ship’s Anchor: The ship’s anchor now plays anchor to a thriving community of fish. The chain moray eel runs the roost with its impressive black body covered in yellow chain-like rings. It shares this safe spot with tangs, triggerfish, grouper and more.

Ropes and Rigging: Enter the ship’s wreckage and pop-up into a dome to be surrounded by the ropes and pulleys that once held everything together. They now form a forest of protection for the animals that call it home. Find venomous and beautiful lionfish with their long flowing fins, scorpionfish with their poisonous spines and the purplemouth eel with its long fin running the entire length of its body.

Newport Aquarium is wrapping up a year-long celebration of its 20th anniversary, which included the opening of Splash and Bubbles Reeftown Adventures and Freshwater Falls.

Rose said 2019 was a big year at the attraction, but the goal at Newport Aquarium is to keep things fresh.

“Our interest is always to have something new to see and do for our guests,” Rose said. “We’re always working on big things, little things, unique experiences to keep it interesting, attractive and offer compelling reasons for people to come back.”

A rendering of the Treasure Tank, part of the new Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels, exhibit at Newport Aquarium.

Cincinnati-based North American Properties (NAP) purchased Newport on the Levee late last year  and has unveiled ambitious plans  to transform it into a regional attraction. The total investment in the Levee property is expected to exceed $100 million.

Rose said the new owners have been “phenomenal” to work with.

“I meet with them almost weekly and they are putting incredible amounts of investment into the property,” Rose said. “Newport on the Levee and Newport Aquarium are going to become this renewed destination for the region, not just for Cincinnati, but the entire midwest. It will include new shopping, new restaurants, new experiences; and Newport Aquarium is going to be sitting in the middle of it.”

Annual Pass Deal:

From November 1 to December 31, 2019 Newport Aquarium is offering Annual Passes on a “Buy 3, Get 1 Free” sale. Annual Passes are valid for one year from the date of purchase, so guests can use them now to experience Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland and into next year, including a VIP Passholder-only preview party for the opening of Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels in the spring.

To learn more, click here, or call 800-406-FISH (3474).

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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