The Suburbanite
  • New aquatic exhibit opens at Akron Zoo

  • The Akron Zoo’s “Journey to the Reef” exhibition, which opens Saturday, allows visitors to study the intricacies of an octopus, moray eels and jellyfish at very close range.

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  • It’s funny how the creepiest things can become fascinating and even kind of beautiful behind aquarium glass.
    The Akron Zoo’s “Journey to the Reef” exhibition, which opens Saturday, allows visitors to study the intricacies of an octopus, moray eels and jellyfish at very close range.
    More daring visitors may even opt to pet a stingray and a bamboo shark!
    “The popularity of our jellyfish exhibit, which was slated to run three years but stayed for four, made us realize how much people in Northeast Ohio like aquatic animals,” says David Barnhardt, the zoo’s director of marketing.
    “Reef conservation is a real cool topic, and it has given us the opportunity to tell people what a valuable ecosystem reefs are.”
    The reef theme has also meant the arrival in the zoo’s indoor aquarium of starfish, clownfish, lobsters, snails, sea horses, sea anemones, sea urchins and sea apples.
    “Journey to the Reef” also marks the welcome return of jellyfish to the zoo. Next to the large tank devoted to delicate and iridescent moon jellies is a button where visitors can change their color via lighting. Another tank showcases the undulating Japanese sea nettles.
    In a curved tank of its own, the octopus is fascinating to watch, its tentacles forever gliding and uncurling, and its tiny eyes inscrutable. She’s a female and reddish in hue but can turn a camouflaging gray when next to the rocks at the back of the tank, Barnhardt notes.
    Expected to run for three years, “Journey to the Reef” is dimly lit to give added emphasis to the many glowing aquariums with their vivid glimpses of colorful undersea life. One tank is devoted to schooling fish moving in formation, another to the handsome yet venomous lionfish.
    One large tank houses a coral lab, where coral is being grown from broken pieces. “It will be neat for people to come back and see how it is regenerating,” Barnhardt says.
    Adding greatly to the undersea vibe are the more than 10,000 square feet of colorful aquatic murals designed by artist Amy Mothersbaugh-Roos, proprietor of Studio 2091 gallery in Cuyahoga Falls — and sister of Devo members Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. She and a team of volunteers spent close to six months painting fanciful coral reefs and undersea life throughout the exhibit.
    The exhibit’s last large room contains hands-on activities. Here, kids will find things to play with and climb upon, and all ages can touch a stingray, bamboo shark and horse-shoe crabs under the supervision of members of the zoo’s education staff. There’s also an interactive and informative kiosk called Safe Seafood Choices where funny chefs (on film) share information about various seafood dishes.
    “Journey to the Reef,” whose air-conditioning is an enticing feature on hot summer days, is included in the zoo admission price. It is located the same building that houses the zoo’s food court and komodo dragon. Elsewhere on the zoo’s winding and well-landscaped grounds, are tigers, lions, leopards, lemurs, jaguars, penguins, flamingos, tortoises and many more animals.
    Page 2 of 2 - Appropriately, the zoo’s gift shop has been stocked with aquatic-themed items including, surprisingly enough, stuffed plush octopuses and jellyfish.

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