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Discovery Cove's new Grand Reef gets grand opening

By Dewayne Bevil, Orlando Sentinel

9:02 AM EST, February 21, 2013

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Discovery Cove introduced its new Grand Reef to the public on Friday. The new area allows guests to the SeaWorld Orlando resort to snorkel among thousands of fish from around the world and have a close (if glass-enclosed) encounter with sharks.

Stewart Clark, vice president of Discovery Cove, said research and planning for Grand Reef had included gathering the opinions of former (and potential) Discovery Cove guests as well as staff members.

One result was making the area multi-level, so that even non-swimming folks and people who stay in shallow water could see the sharks, he said.

"We wanted places that people could go in the shallow water, places people could go in the deep water, and places that people could experience both together," Clark said.

Near the sharks, the glass pane is angled, not flat.

"It is actually slanted so far that the sharks are swimming underneath it, and you don't notice the glass as you're swimming up to it," Clark said.

New species visible from the reef -- but not mingling with the other fish -- include eels and lionfish, which are proliferating at a high pace along Florida's east coast.

Fish were introduced slowly to Grand Reef over the past few months, and they now number about 6,000 there.

"We'll eventually get to 10,000 fish in the next month or so," Clark says.

Also coming soon to Grand Reef is an extra-charge attraction called SeaVenture, an underwater walking tour complete with dive helmets, which will be lowered onto guests as they descend a ladder into the reef.

Although the helmet weighs 70 pound, Clark says, the water makes everything bouyant.

"When you take a step, it's like you're walking on the moon," he says.

SeaVenture should become available to the public in "the next couple of weeks," Clark says.

For more information, go to www.discoverycove.com.