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Under the Sea and Over the Mountains

Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

Natalie Hollingshead | Photos courtesy of Loveland Living Planet Aquarium Mar 15, 2019

Like a living organism, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium has grown and evolved in the 15 years since founder and CEO Brent Andersen gave life to his dream in landlocked Utah. From its humble beginnings in an “Aqua Van,” the aquarium has expanded into a 136,000-square-foot facility in Draper visited yearly by 900,000 people.

Its next transformation is set to be the most impressive yet. The aquarium is adding a Science Learning Campus anchored by a cutting-edge learning center and a 165-foot monument called The Claw — now renamed EECO, short for Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory — that served as the stage for Irish rock band U2’s renowned 360 Tour.

“This Science Learning Campus is about achieving our mission to inspire people to explore, discover and learn about the earth’s unique ecosystems,” Andersen says. “We are all part of one global ecosystem, the living planet.”

Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory rendering

To Aquarium and Beyond

The aquarium’s Draper campus is an awe-inspiring destination, with 4,000 animals of 625 species displayed in five galleries. The space includes a four-story rainforest gallery and a 300,000-gallon shark habitat with a walk-through tunnel, a stingray touch pool and an exhibit of waddling and diving penguins.

“Whether someone is 3 or 93, they enjoy coming to the aquarium and go away learning at least one or more things about how our planet works,” Andersen says.

The two-part expansion will transform the Living Planet into more than just an aquarium. Phase one is focused on outdoor spaces and the EECO. Among the elements are a nature-inspired play area and a coral reef ecosystem playground, says Ari Robinson, director of creative design and exhibits. There will be room for art festivals, movies at the park, farmers markets and more.

EECO was chosen for its iconic appeal, but there will be more than meets the eye below the surface of the 400,000-pound steel structure. Plans are underway to create a virtual reality eco-command center to showcase how the planet works. Imagine visiting the interior of a volcano or traveling inside a human cell without moving from your seat.

Asian Cloud Forest Habitat rendering

“I haven’t seen anything quite like that before — certainly not on this scale,” Andersen says. “It gives us a lot of ways to teach a wide-range of people about how the world works.”

Phase two of the project is construction of the Science Learning Center. The 80,000-square-foot building will house interactive exhibits, state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms for educational outreach. There will also be conference and event space, plus a STEM science entrepreneur incubator. It will connect to the existing aquarium through an expanded five-story, quarter-acre Asian Cloud Forest Habitat.

The steep facets of the exterior are designed to mirror the Wasatch Mountains to the east and stand in contrast to the soft, ocean-like curves of the aquarium. “We wanted to represent another ecosystem on our planet,” Robinson explains, “and create really beautiful imagery.”

Connected to the Living Planet

This expansion is part of what Andersen pictured when he first saw the land for the Draper campus seven years ago, and far more than he envisioned when he started perusing his aquarium dreams in 1998.

His end goal — one shared by the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium staff and board — is to educate people about how the planet works to ultimately foster stewardship for the environment and life on Earth.

“If I can change the mindset of people over the long haul, then we can start to see a generational change,” Andersen says. “This approach is much longer-term than a direct action, like where we go clean up the waterways, but it can potentially have a much bigger impact on attitudes about conservation over the course of time.”

Asian Cloud Forest Habitat rendering
Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory rendering
Conference and event space rendering

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