Miami Seaquarium back in business after Wilmas battering

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MIAMI -- The year 2005, Miami Seaquariums 50th anniversary, started full of hope and promise but ended on a sour note. On Oct. 24, Hurricane Wilma made landfall at Biscayne Bay, at the back of the park.

Thats where the storm came in, said Jorge Martinez, a spokesman for the Seaquarium. We had a six-foot storm surge.

Two of the parks attractions -- the Shark Channel, a circular channel thats home to sharks and fish, and Discovery Bay, an exhibit of crocodiles, turtles, fish, deer and other animals -- were badly hit.

Damage to the rest of the park was less severe but included some roof damage, damage to the sea wall and loss of some trees, including four large ficus.

The financial toll was calculated at $2.5 million in property damage and $4.4 million in lost revenue.

Most of the resident animals, including manatees, dolphins, sea lions, seals, parrots, reptiles, flamingos and Lolita the killer whale, survived, Martinez said. But there were some painful losses.

The sharks and fish in the Shark Channel didnt survive, he said. It was hit with tons of silt from the bay. We lost 20 sharks and a lot of fish.

Fortunately, Seaworld Orlando donated five nurse sharks to get the Shark Channel functioning again. The Seaquarium replenished the smaller fish on its own.

The Seaquarium reopened Feb. 11 after 109 days closed. During that time the park underwent a thorough refurbishment. Discovery Bay and the Shark Channel are repaired and back in business.

Approximately 2,000 small shrubs were planted, including sea grapes, fire bush, clusia, fakahatchee, Jamaica caiper and Spanish stopper. Forty native trees and 60 sabal palm trees are being planted throughout the park. Walls and roofs have been restored, and everything has been repainted.

The park will soon unveil its refurbished sea lion show, Salty and the Reef Rangers, which will feature the Seaquariums star sea lions.

The Top Deck Dolphin Show and the Reef Aquarium, with over 2,000 tropical fish, are open.

They were both under construction for the past two years and were not affected by the storm, Martinez said.

Also returning to action is the two-hour Swim With Our Dolphins program, a consciousness expander of the highest order.

Miami Seaquarium is open 365 days a year. Admission is $27.95 for adults, $21.95 for children.

For more information, visit www.miamiseaquarium.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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