25-foot long aquarium with seagrass habitat opens at Newport Aquarium this weekend

Includes array of animals from scrawled filefish, eel fish, lobsters and crabs to urchins, conchs and more.

Newport Aquarium’s new Hatchling Harbor exhibit includes a 25-ft.-long aquarium and Caribbean Seagrass habitat that will be the home to an entirely new ecosystem and hundreds of colorful animals.

“The fun of this area is it falls midway between the shore and the reef,” said Matt Duda, a representative of Newport Aquarium.

The habitat has underground meadows, where all kinds of animals come in to graze, such as sea turtles. Because the grasses are there, it provides a lot of extra safety for young animals.

“There are a lot of young animals that deposit their eggs there, and then, it allows their babies to grow up in this safe environment,” he said. “There are so many great stories to tell, and we’re really excited to share it with guests.”

Set in an immersive environment, Hatchling Harbor will let visitors explore this space between the shore and the reef. The exhibit has an array of animals from scrawled filefish, eel fish, lobsters and crabs to urchins, conchs and more. Cowfish and pufferfish are among the fan favorites. Hatchling Harbor is one of longest tanks in the aquarium and animals will live in all different spaces and corners of the tank.

A visit to Hatchling Harbor is included with a general admission ticket or an annual membership. The exhibition is located right after the Seahorses gallery and before the Shipwreck gallery.

A lot of work was put into the theming around the area with a pier juts out into the space, and the dramatic lighting that was added. Guests will feel like they are under water with the fish, looking up at the pier from the sea floor.

“We want to make sure that people are having fun, and when they come to the aquarium that they are getting to go someplace where they feel transported to a new environment. That’s why when you visit Hatchling Harbor, it’s not just looking at this beautiful new exhibit. It’s about feeling like you’re immersed in the environment with those animals,” Duda said.

With seagrass meadows, the grasses provide nursery grounds, ample food, shelter and protection for underwater life. Growing entirely under water, seagrasses are flowering plants with stems and long, grass-like leaves.

“It’s a fascinating environment. A lot of people don’t appreciate the value that seagrasses bring. Seagrasses can actually capture carbon from the atmosphere 35 times faster than the rainforests. So, when it comes to climate change, and protecting our planet, seagrasses are an important part of that story. They also create this very important habitat that a lot of sea life depends on,” Duda said.

With Hatchling Harbor being the home to so many young animals, guests will find a new experience every day watching the sea life change shape, color and markings as the animals grow into adulthood and ultimately head further out to sea.

Visitors to Hatchling Harbor will find a school of young parrotfish, for example, who use their bird-like beaks to scrape algae off the corals and rocks, and while they do that, they are making sand. An estimated 70 percent of white sandy beaches in the Caribbean are created by parrotfish.

“It’s fascinating how these little animals can make such a big impact. It will be fun to watch them grow up in this habitat. Right now, they’re very small. They are still just babies, but as they grow, these guys will get to be maybe a foot long, and start developing more of their colors and behaviors,” Duda said.

How to go

What: Hatchling Harbor

When: Opens Friday

Where: Newport Aquarium, 1 Levee Way, Newport, Ky.

Admission: A variety of annual membership options and single-day tickets are available. Buy tickets online in advance at www.NewportAquarium.com and save with Plan-Ahead Pricing.

More info: NewportAquarium.com

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