NYC Aquarium rebounds, reopens after damage from Hurricane Sandy
NEW YORK -- The New York Aquarium has cherished its big-city setting by the sea for half a century. But the ocean that is the aquarium's lifeblood dealt it a shattering blow last fall.
Hurricane Sandy's surge overran carefully calibrated tanks with oily, debris-filled water, knocked out even backup power to all the exhibits and made it impossible to check on some of them for days. Managers contemplated shipping animals away and wondered whether the institution itself could survive in its spot on Coney Island.
Five months later, more than 80 percent of the collection is intact, and visitors should be able to see walruses, angelfish, otters and others when about half the aquarium reopens in late spring. A planned expansion remains on track, now coupled with rebuilding and flood-proofing an institution that aims to be an object lesson in enduring on the shore.
"I don't think we could abandon this facility. Not that we didn't think about it -- we thought through everything," aquarium Director Jon Forrest Dohlin said this week as he stood amid pipes and cables in a now-empty jellyfish exhibit.
As he walked through the 14-acre grounds, penguins watched like squat sentries from their outdoor habitat. Walruses snoozed as sea lions arced through the air on their trainers' cues, staying in practice for shows to resume in a few months. Angelfish and other tropical species shimmered around a coral reef and hefty pacu, a fruit-eating piranha relative, hovered in an Amazonian display in the one building where exhibit space wasn't flooded.
But the effects of the Oct. 29 storm were still starkly visible elsewhere.
The floor was torn out of a building that houses jellyfish, seahorses, lungfish and other unusual creatures. Many were still there but set to start moving next month to other aquariums while their facility is rebuilt. The open pool in front of it was drained dry; it housed hundreds of freshwater koi that died in the saltwater surge.
Sharks, sea turtles and rays circled serenely in a tank in the aquarium's veterinary hospital. They're healthy but were shuttled there after the storm, putting an exclamation point on plans to reinvent their exhibit. Nearby, the gutted cafeteria still has "Happy Halloween!" signs on its windows.
There's no firm date yet for this spring's partial reopening. The rest of the exhibits, including the new $120 million shark display, could open in 2016, but no firm date is set.
Meanwhile, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the aquarium, is determining how much insurance and government aid may pay toward fixing roughly $65 million in estimated damage.