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National Aquarium Recognized for Significant Achievement in Exhibit Design for Blacktip Reef by Association of Zoos & Aquariums


The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recently recognized the National Aquarium’s Blacktip Reef exhibit with the honor of Significant Achievement in Exhibit Design during AZA’s annual Honors and Awards program. The $12.5 million Blacktip Reef exhibit opened in August 2013.

“This award is the highest honor for new exhibits, and the National Aquarium is on the leading edge of aquatic exhibits in North America,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “Blacktip Reef demonstrates the Aquarium’s innovation and commitment to providing the best in animal care and public education to help connect people to nature.”

With its annual Exhibit Award, AZA recognizes excellence in the area of live animal display and exhibit design by an AZA-accredited Institution (U.S. or International) or Related Facility member.

“The impact of the Blacktip Reef exhibit on the National Aquarium and its community was truly a game-changer and touched the hearts and minds of all guests,” said Rick Barongi, executive vice president of Conservation at the Houston Zoo and chair of AZA’s Honors and Awards Committee.

Blacktip Reef has quickly become the National Aquarium’s most popular exhibit and a significant enhancement to our guest experience. More than that, it also inspires our guests to care about coral reefs and their inhabitants, and to feel they have a stake in our important work to preserve and protect these aquatic treasures,” said John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium.

Blacktip Reef’s meticulously recreated coral reef habitat represents the ecosystem of an Indo-Pacific reef and features a school of sleek and fast-moving blacktip reef sharks, whiptail rays, wobbegong sharks, a 500-pound green sea turtle and a variety of beautiful fishes. All of these animals thrive in this integrated, self-contained ecosystem in the 260,000-gallon exhibit.

The exhibit takes advantage of its unique space and can be enjoyed from many vantage points, including a new floor-to-ceiling viewing window that allows guests to step inside the exhibit and come face-to-face with the magnificent animal species and intricate corals. Guests also have the opportunity to engage with National Aquarium experts through personally facilitated experiences, conservation education carts and animal feedings. Informative computer touchscreens throughout the exhibit provide photos, videos and further facts.

At the end of their visit, guests can share their experience on an interactive Water Wall by uploading photos and celebrating their connection to water. By emotionally engaging guests through this breathtaking exhibit, the Aquarium aims to inspire conservation and a commitment to protect coral reefs and all of the world’s aquatic treasures.

Whiting-Turner Contracting Company oversaw construction of the exhibit.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and six other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit


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