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By Georgia Grimond, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Residents and visitors to Rio will soon be able to swim with sharks and sleep under the sea at the new Aquário Marinho do Rio de Janeiro (Rio marine aquarium). The attraction was originally billed to open at the end of this year, but delays in building work have pushed its opening back until March 2016. It is due to be the largest marine aquarium in South America.

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An artist’s impression of the finished Aqua Rio in the Port Area, photo courtesy of Aqua Rio.

Situated in Zona Portuária (Port Zone) in a former cold-storage warehouse, Aqua Rio will occupy 22,000 square meters spread over five floors and a basement. It will be home to 8,000 animals of 350 different species, including sharks, sea turtles, sting rays and fish.

O Recinto Oceânico e de Mergulho, or the Oceanic and Diving Enclosure, will be the largest tank holding up to 3.3 million liters of water and going to a depth of seven meters. Members of the public will be able to dive among the resident sharks and get up close to many other species.

Marcelo Szpilman, a biologist and president of the project, reassures those who might be nervous. “They are quite a docile species and pose no threat at all,” he told G1. “The activity will be in a controlled environment, in clear water and without risk.”

For those reluctant to get into the tank, it will be possible to pass underneath via a six-ton tunnel made of bullet-proof acrylic. Children will be able to take part in evening programs where they will spend the night at the aquarium, sleeping in the tunnel and watching the underwater world from below.

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Aqua Rio will be a center for education as well as entertainment, photo courtesy of Aqua Rio.

With the help of innovative technology, visitors to the virtual aquarium will be able to create their own fish that will then guide them, talk to them and answer their questions. In the augmented reality area, people will be able to find out a little more about many of the underwater inhabitants.

“Our aquarium, like all good aquariums, is focused on the combination of education, research and conservation,” says Szpilma. “Of course, we’re talking about entertainment and leisure. But mostly, we’ll have a good strong part of environmental education, especially for children.”

Aqua Rio has partnered with the Research Center of Marine Biology at UFRJ, Rio’s federal university. Research will take place on site as well as some captive breeding programs. The hope is to return endangered species to Brazilian waters. Initially, however, many of the fish that will live at the aquarium will be caught in Guanabara Bay, quarantined for observation and then moved to their new tanks.

The aquarium has been financed entirely by the private sector, with partner companies and sponsors providing the R$90 million it will cost. Visitors will be charged a R$40 entrance fee. Schools and staff will enter for free.

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