Biologist Kaitlin Buhler stayed buoyant in a cylindrical tank, enclosed in 30,000 gallons of water.
On the other side of the glass, Moody Gardens dive safety officer Jake Emmert spoke to Buhler through a microphone.
“Hi, how’s the weather today?” he said.
Buhler’s voice rang outside of the tank.
“It’s great,” she said. “About 72 degrees in here.”
Buhler and Emmert chatted some more, demonstrating new technology that will allow divers to communicate with visitors at the Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid. That sort of interaction will soon be a commonplace feature at the pyramid, which reopens to the public on May 27 after $37 million in renovations.
“I think it’s spectacular,” Moody Gardens CEO and President John Zendt said. “A lot of the exhibits, we’re really interpreting differently.”
With the renovations, the pyramid will house several new exhibits, including stingray and jellyfish touch tanks, as well as a habitat featuring 10 Humboldt penguins. Most of the improvements allow for more visitor interaction, said Jerri Hamachek, marketing and public relations manager for the educational nonprofit.
“We wanted to make it a more immersive experience from the time you walk through the door,” Hamachek said. “We hope throughout the whole experience that we’re going to connect people to the ocean and remind them why it’s such an important resource that we need to protect.”
The 30,000-gallon tank is one of the largest additions to the pyramid. The tank sits under a replicated Gulf of Mexico oil rig. All animal and coral species in the tank are the same as what one might see in the Gulf, Emmert said.
“The theming of this exhibit is built on what’s known out there, so they did a really good job,” Emmert said.
Other exhibits include a replica of a shipwreck scene, modeled after Galveston pirate Jean Laffite’s ship, the Pride. Another new tank models the Flower Garden Banks coral reef system, which is about 115 miles offshore of Galveston.
The changes took two and a half years to complete, Zendt said. Visitors will soon have more learning opportunities at the pyramid, now that they can communicate with divers and see researchers at work, he said.
“We want people to go behind the scenes, because it helps them understand the environment and learn to protect our resources more,” Zendt said.
Moody Gardens executives expect the aquarium’s reopening on May 27 to boost attendance throughout the nonprofit’s three educational pyramids. About 10,000 people are expected to purchase tickets at Moody Gardens that day — a number a bit higher than the daily summer turnout, Hamachek said.
In experiencing the new exhibits, visitors should learn to better value the ocean and its importance to the Earth, she said.
“We’ve been super excited for this day,” Hamachek said. “There are more animal presentations, more opportunities for our guests to be able to engage with our staff and for them to be able to inform everybody about why we need to care for these animals and protect the ocean,” she said.