The Atlantic

Bursting the Aquarium Bubble

Aquariums might seem like underwater wonderlands, but building a new one comes at a cost.
Source: Yuriko Nakao / Reuters

The United States is experiencing a new wave of aquarium enthusiasm. Over the past few years, groups in Detroit; St. Louis; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Memphis; Cape Canaveral, Florida; and New York City have proposed or started construction on large aquariums. Springfield, Missouri, and Shreveport, Louisiana, have recently opened aquariums. Boosters for these spaces are selling them as conservation initiatives that will create jobs and bring in revenue—alternatives to sports stadiums and shopping districts meant to revitalize downtrodden downtowns.

But the history of aquariums tells a different story. In the earliest public aquariums, tanks were sparsely populated with somewhat mundane species. These institutions started as traveling fishery exhibits: The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair contained some of the first tank displays. The state of Pennsylvania fashioned a grotto with glass jewel boxes lining a dark hallway that

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min readPsychology
Children Cannot Parent Other Children
Reports of babies and toddlers being left in the care of slightly older children in detention facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border reveal an ongoing atrocity.
The Atlantic3 min readPolitics
What Sets Bernie Sanders' Student-Debt Plan Apart
The senator, alongside Representatives Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal, announced legislation to cancel all student-loan debt and make college debt-free.
The Atlantic2 min readPsychology
The Pediatrician’s Most Awkward Task
When Carrie Quinn was training to be a pediatrician, she dutifully memorized the list of symptoms for meningitis. She learned the right antibiotics for pneumonia. But when she got into the clinic, she found herself unprepared for what really concerne