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New aquarium in Concord Mills ready to open

A 26,000 square foot aquarium in Concord will open its doors to visitors on Thursday.

Sea Life Aquarium, located inside Concord Mills Mall, is home to 5,000 marine creatures, more than 20 displays and holds 150,000 gallons of water.

Sea Life Marketing Manager Jack Stevenson said the aquarium is kid friendly and has “lots of immersive exhibits and a lot of interaction going on as well.”

It takes about an hour to go through the aquarium, which showcases marine life from nine different habitat zone. Visitors can see sharks, stingrays, seahorses, jellyfish, starfish and a giant Pacific octopus.

Each room is decorated with creative sets, lighting and music to portray the individual habitat zone and is outfitted with interactive technology to enhance the learning experience.

“I think it’s really fascinating to see how all the animals are and see new animals that you’ve never seen before,” said Emily Bell, a fifth grader at from Midland, N.C.

Bell was one of 12 students selected by Sea Life to preview the aquarium Monday. The young environmentalists submitted essays and artwork about conservation to be considered.

Visitors can walk through a 180 degree acrylic tunnel, surrounded by a 12 foot deep tank filled with various types of sharks, rays and fish.

Another exhibit features marine life typically found close to North Carolina’s shores, including horseshoe crabs, yellow rays and flounder. The room also contains a touch pool, where children and adults can touch starfish, sea urchins and hermit crabs.

In the shoaling room, a tank lines the circumference of the room, allowing the fish to constantly circle the room with a current, demonstrating how fish swim in schools.

Sea Life has a shallow lagoon filled with stingrays, Atlantic rays and large moray eels, as well as a room devoted to tropical fish.

The aquarium features an entire room devoted to the freshwater species found in North Carolina’s Catawba River, such as striped bass, shiners, minnows, blue catfish and many other local species.

Sea Life also has a play area for children and a retail area with souvenirs.

Bell said her favorite fish was a puffer fish she found in the lobby.

“It just stares at you and smiles — it looks like it smiles,” she said.

The aquarium also has a strong emphasis on conservation, following its mission to breed, rescue and protect.

“Sea Life’s biggest effort is to educate young people to grow up to be conservationists and environmentalists,” said Autumn Blackmon, a Sea Life public relations representative.

In addition to educating visitors, Sea Life contributes to conservation efforts around the world by breeding many of their own species and working to rescue and return sea creatures to the wild.

Stevenson said locating the newest Sea Life aquarium at Concord Mills is a “great opportunity,” citing that the mall is already the no. 1 tourist destination in the state of North Carolina.”

Sea Life is prepared for expansion as well. The venue has 10,000 square feet of space reserved for future additions.

Sea Life is the world’s largest aquarium chain, owning more than 45 aquariums around the world that attract 50 million visitors each year.

Sea Life is run by Merlin Entertainments, a United Kingdom-based international family entertainment company. The Concord Mills Sea Life is Merlin Entertainments’ 100th attraction.

Regular admission tickets cost $21 for adults and $17 for children, ages 3 to 12. Children ages 2 and under are free. Annual passes are also available.

Discounted tickets can be purchased for $16 online through Feb. 19, and special packages are available for fieldtrips and parties.

The aquarium will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 7 p.m. It is located near entrance seven at Concord Mills Mall.

The grand opening celebration Thursday will include a ribbon cutting at 10:30 a.m., as well as opening remarks from Secretary of Commerce for the N.C. Department of Commerce Sharon Decker, Concord Mayor J. Scott Padgett and other special guests.

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