The $5.5 million "Living Seashore" exhibit, which will span 2,700 square feet, is designed to teach visitors about the "ever-changing Mid-Atlantic seashore." More than 150 animals will live in the display that will include two large touch pools filled with 5,331 gallons of salt water and a replicated sandy shore.
"The new Living Seashore exhibit will give guests a one-of-a-kind, hands-on experience with some of the very creatures we're working to preserve and protect," National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli said in a statement. "The Mid-Atlantic seashore is a local aquatic treasure, and a seemingly familiar place to many.
"But, as our guests will soon discover, fascinating stories await them; stories of the secret lives of seashore animals and plants, as well as the people who are dedicated to keeping our beaches and coast healthy."
The exhibit is part of a $10.5 million upgrade to the 33-year-old aquarium building that includes renovations and improvements throughout the campus. Nearly 50 million people have visited the aquarium since it opened.
The seashore exhibit would follow the $13 million Blacktip Reef the Aquarium opened last August. That exhibit recreates an Indo-Pacific reef with 20 blacktip reef sharks, imitation sea coral, about 70 species of fish and a sea turtle.
In "Living Seashore," visitors will be able to go to the edge of the touch pools and "gently touch" the spines of a purple sea urchin, the wing of an Atlantic stingray and the bell of a moon jelly. Aquarium experts will be on hand to help visitors learn how to responsibly take a trip to the beach and help ensure the conservation of the animals that live there.
"Many of these animals live side-by-side with us on our beaches, and we don't even know it," said Jack Cover, general curator for the aquarium, in the announcement.
The display also will include a tactile discovery wall that brings a "slice of the beach" to eye level with hermit crabs, shell fragments, bird tracks and egg cases, according to aquarium officials. Other displays will show animals that live below the ocean's surface, such as spider crabs, striped burrfish and northern stargazers.
The exhibit will be located in the aquarium's Pier 3 Pavilion as part of Level 3's Blue Wonders: Reefs to Rainforests. The space has been used as a backup area, officials said.
Visitors will be invited to pledge to protect local aquatic life and ecosystems at the exhibit's digital Shore Hero Conservation Station.
"Through meaningful experiences with animals, interpreters and some very cool interactive exhibits, we hope to inspire people to action by giving them the tools to make everyday choices that will positively affect the health of our very own Chesapeake Bay and the ocean beyond," Racanelli said in a statement.
Reporter Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this story.