Either measured by the number of fish (more than 100,000) or by the volume of water (a 6-million-gallon or 23-million-liter tank), the Georgia Aquarium truly is the world’s largest aquarium. 10 times larger than the London Aquarium, the one in Georgia cost $290 million to build, and 90% of the founding coming from Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus.
The aquarium is divided into five separate galleries that are built around the central atrium: Georgia Explorer, Tropical Diver, Cold-Water Quest, River Scout and the Ocean Voyageur, each corresponding to a different environment. These galleries house about 500 species in 60 habitats, from whales, penguins, and otters to rays, crabs and eels. In the building process, 100,000 yards of concrete were used, 61 miles of pipe and wire and 328 tons windows made from acrylic.
At the beginning, the aquarium was filled with ordinary tap water; after removing the chemicals, the staff used the equivalent of 920,000 containers of table salt to salinate the water. Out of the five galleries, the Ocean Voyageur tank is by far the largest, holding 75% of the aquarium’s water (6 million gallons). This tank is only one in the United States that exhibits the Great Hammerhead Shark. The Aquarium is also home to the stars from The Honeymooners – four whale sharks named Ralph, Norton, Alice and Trixie; two of these sharks unfortunately passed away.
Beginning with June 2008, the Aquarium has started a special program called “Swim With Gentle Giants”. 12 divers a day have the chance to swim with whale sharks for $290. Swimmers have to keep a five-foot distance from the sharks and can even put their experience on camera, at $50 a commemorative DVD.
For Markus, the owner of Home Depot, this construction is simply a “thank you” note to the city of Atlanta. The Aquarium is located in downtown Atlanta, north of Centennial Olympic Park. The Coca-Cola Company opened Pemberton Place, a World of Coca-Cola attraction occupying 9 acres (40,000 m²) of the park.