Shedd Aquarium’s iconic Caribbean Reef habitat to be replaced amid massive renovations project

The 90,000-gallon tank, built in the Shedd’s rotunda in 1971, features a range of ocean life, including Nickel, the beloved rescued green sea turtle.

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The Shedd Aquarium will remove the Caribbean Reef tank.

The Shedd Aquarium will be removing the Caribbean Reef tank from its rotunda and replacing it with a new exhibit. The tank has welcomed visitors to the aquarium since 1971.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Shedd Aquarium’s Caribbean Reef, the 360-degree, massive underwater habitat that welcomed guests for more than 50 years, will soon be a relic of the past as a major indoor renovation of the entire venue gets underway this year.

The 90,000-gallon tank, built in the Shedd’s rotunda in 1971, features a range of coral reefs and ocean life, including Nickel, the beloved rescued green sea turtle; bonnethead sharks, queen angelfish, parrotfish and cownose rays, according to the Shedd’s website. It was also home to scuba divers hand-feeding various sea creatures and “talking” to visitors through two-way speakers in their masks.

A new, dual-habitat system called “Wonder of Water” will replace the tank as a part of the Shedd’s major transformation of the aquarium. The new exhibit will feature saltwater and freshwater creatures. The animals currently in the exhibit will be moved to a new Caribbean habitat.

Nickel the green sea turtle will be moved from her current exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium.

Nickel, the Shedd’s beloved green sea turtle, will be moving from the tank she has been in since she arrived at the aquarium in 2003.

John H White/Sun-Times

Perhaps the most popular feature of the tank are those volunteer scuba divers. Visitors can watch them clean and maintain the tank and prepare food to hand-feed the animals.

In the past, visitors could also enlist the divers to send a special message to someone. A diver would hold a sign with the personal message, such as wishing someone a happy birthday or “popping the question.”

Diver Roger Lewis in the Carribean Reef at the Shedd Aquarium in May 1999.

Diver Roger Lewis in the Carribean Reef at the Shedd Aquarium in May 1999.

Sun-Times file

The return of the divers to the future enclosures is not definite. A Shedd spokesperson said the aquarium will explore similar programs once the new exhibits open, but couldn’t provide specific details.

Nickel the turtle has been the star of the exhibit since she first came to the aquarium in 2003. She was rescued after surviving a boat collision on the Gulf Coast that left a deep gash in her shell affecting her buoyancy. Her injury means she can never return to the wild, but she is able to easily navigate her habitat, Shedd’s website says.

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