Skip to main content
In depth
Auckland Zoo Charlie Orangutan

16 new zoo and aquarium projects to watch in 2020

Good zoos and aquariums do vital conservation work and help the fight against extinction and climate change.

In fact, AZA released research in 2019 which showed that its accredited venues across the US added $24 billion to the country’s economy. As we enter a new decade, there are several exciting new zoo and aquarium projects underway across the globe.

Many of these new zoo and aquarium projects involve expansions. These aim to improve habitats, educate visitors and provide a more engaging experience. Others are completely new attractions.

Top new zoo and aquarium projects for 2020

1. Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo is coming to the end of almost a decade of expansion and improvement projects. This began in 2012 with a new Veterinary Medical Centre. It will wrap up in 2020 with the completion of the final three projects. These are new habitats for Polar Bears and Black Rhinos, as well as a Primate Forest.

These new zoo projects have been in the pipeline since 2008 when the local community voted to invest $125 million in Oregon Zoo. The aim is to protect animal welfare and increase access to conservation education. The zoo also aims to improve sustainability. When all the work is complete, almost 40% of the zoo will be transformed.

2. Al Ain Zoo

Al Ain Zoo is one and a half hours from Dubai and from Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Over the last few years, it has announced several expansion projects. Construction is almost complete on the first part of the project. This includes a new Reptile Park, Elephant Safari, Gorilla Sanctuary and Sand Cat Conservation Exhibit.

view from a safari at Al Ain Zoo, which has announced several new zoo expansion plans

However, the zoo also recently announced more expansion plans. Future visitors will be able to enjoy Koala Land, Chimpanzee Forest, Al Ain Nature Reserve and a Rescue Centre. There will also be a Penguin Beach, an Elephant Exhibit, Event Land, and the Sand Cat Breeding Centre. Koala Land is unique to the region. It will allow guests to watch the marsupials from wooden buildings.

3. Wildlife World

This month, Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park opened its five-acre Safari Park expansion. The new zoo area is now home to two endangered pygmy hippos. It also features Grévy’s zebra, onagers, caracals and the clouded leopard. In addition to this, visitors can see red-billed blue magpies, nilgai antelope, and sarus cranes.

wildlife world pygmy hippos at the new zoo expansion

The expansion includes exhibits that resemble the natural habitats of the different species. There are pastures, ponds, islands and water features. The pygmy hippos, for example, have two indoor pools and two outdoor pastures. They also have a watering hole with a waterfall. The five-acre addition brings the total size of the Safari Park to almost 30 acres.

4. Georgia Aquarium

Next on our list of new zoo and aquarium projects is the $100 million shark exhibit at Georgia Aquarium. Designed by PGAV Destinations, it broke ground in 2018 and is set to open in Autumn 2020.

Georgia Aquarium projects, new shark exhibit

The one-million-square-foot exhibit will be home to several species. For example, tiger sharks, hammerheads, sand tigers, sandbars and silvertips. As part of the shark exhibit, the upgraded aquarium will include seven galleries. These will showcase various aquatic mammals. This is an addition to a new entrance, as well as office and shopping spaces.

5. The Sea Shell

The Sea Shell marine life experience is due to open in July 2020, at Vinpearl Land Phú Quốc in Vietnam. This unique attraction, designed by Legacy Entertainment, has a dramatic exterior. It resembles a giant turtle and takes inspiration from local folklore. This new aquarium project measures 27,500 square feet and will host five highly-themed galleries. Visitors will enjoy interactive and immersive exhibits.

Vinpearl Land Phu Quoc's Sea Shell, one of the aquarium projects designed by Legacy Entertainment

The new aquarium attraction is being created as part of an all-new theme park development on the island by Vinpearl. Advanced Aquarium Technologies is also working on the project. They will be ensuring that The Sea Shell is one of the most technologically advanced and humane aquarium facilities in the world.

6. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio will open the $2.5 million Daniel Maltz Rhino Reserve in spring 2020. This will more than double the available habitat at the zoo for the critically endangered Eastern black rhinoceros. Due to poaching and habit loss, there are now less than 750 of these animals left in the wild.

cleveland Metropark's new zoo project black rhino reserve

This zoo project also features a second indoor rhino barn. This is in addition to overhead shade and misting areas, a mud wallow and rubbing posts. Guests will be able to observe the rhinos from an accessible viewing deck.

7. New Jersey SEA LIFE at American Dream

Visitors are already enjoying BIG SNOW, Nickelodeon Universe and The Rink at New Jersey’s retailtainment destination, American Dream. The next attraction to open will be Merlin’s New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium. Tickets for general admission and special previews are already on sale ahead of the opening in spring 2020.

new jersey sea life aquarium projects american dream

The 2,300-square-metre aquarium will have 250,000 gallons of water. Guests will enjoy interactive exhibits inspired by New York City’s iconic monuments and landmarks at this ‘city under the sea’. The new aquarium will be home to over 3,000 creatures with around 75 to 100 different species of fish and invertebrates.

8. West Midland Safari Park

This next new zoo project is at West Midland Safari park in the UK.  French operator Looping Group acquired the attraction in 2019. The zoo will benefit from upgraded animal facilities. This includes new state-of-the-art housing and outdoor spaces for African elephants and cheetahs. West Midland Safari Park is also adding overnight accommodation for guests. This is in the form of eight luxury lodges.

west midland safari park acquired by looping, new zoo expansion is planned

Opening in summer 2020, the cheetahs’ new habitat will feature a large outdoor space. It features pools, high vantage points, enrichment feeders and natural shelters. Meanwhile, the elephants will enjoy outdoor pools, mud wallows, dust baths, and feeding areas. They will also be able to roam freely inside their new enclosure 24 hours a day.

9. Auckland Zoo

Auckland Zoo is creating a new South East Asia precinct, as part of an NZ$58 million redevelopment project. This particular endeavour is part of a larger 10-year Future Zoo development.

Siamang Gibbon Auckland Zoo, where a South East Asia new zoo expansion is underway

This South East Asia area will be home to siamang gibbons, orangutans, tigers and otters. As well as this, a climate-controlled dome will echo the Indonesian swamp forest. This will host crocodiles and other reptiles. The project is likely to complete in the first half of 2020.

10. Denver Zoo

Denver Zoo will be opening an innovative habitat for its African penguins in spring 2020. The popular zoo is home to a 20-strong colony of African penguins, who will soon move to a new habitat. Here, they will enjoy a 15,000-gallon pool for swimming, alongside multiple burrows and nest boxes.

denver's new zoo expansion for penguins

Three times larger than their current home, the new habitat will be in the African-theme Benson Predator Ridge exhibit. Visitors will be able to view the penguins underwater. There will also be more space for daily keeper talks.

11. National Aquarium at Al Qana

The National Aquarium in at Al Qana in Abu Dhabi will open in 2020. It will be the largest aquarium in the Middle East. 33,000 marine animals from over 250 different species will be housed in the 7,000 square metre attraction. These will be responsibly and ethically sourced. This new aquarium project will be led by 80 marine experts.

plans for the Al Qana National Aquarium projects

It will include 10 different zones focused on education and conservation. Al Qana is a new waterfront entertainment, dining and leisure destination in Abu Dhabi. Once complete, visitors will be able to enjoy a wellness hub and an outdoor skate park. There will also be a virtual reality (VR) gaming complex.

12. Branson Aquarium

The $51 million Branson Aquarium, also known as the Aquarium at the Boardwalk will be opening in August 2020. The 46,000-square-foot attraction is on the site of the former Grand Palace in Branson, Missouri. It will resemble a huge octopus from the outside.

artist impression of the aquarium on the boardwalk - branson aquarium projects

Inside the attraction, guests can explore immersive exhibits such as the Jellyfish Infinity Room and the Mermaid Palace. There will also be plenty of interactive and educational displays, as well as photo opportunities. Meanwhile, in the themed play area, younger visitors will be able to climb a replica of a giant jellyfish and slide through a swarm of Lionfish.

13. Florida Aquarium

Next on our list of new zoo and aquarium projects is this large expansion plan at The Florida Aquarium. This project coincides with the aquarium’s 25th anniversary. It includes infrastructure improvements and exhibit enhancements, alongside a programme of special events.

artist impression of florida aquarium projects - butterfly garden

The Florida Aquarium has been welcoming visitors since 1995. The project aims to create engaging visitor experiences. It will also improve the aquarium’s conservation and educational opportunities. Throughout the year, several new areas will open. For example, the CIBC Aquatic Lounge gallery, a Wetlands Trail and the TECO Rooftop Pavilion & Solar Exhibit. The Bays & Beaches gallery will also be modernised.

14. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is relocating from its previous seven-acre site to a new 25-acre site, four miles away. The move was in part a response to the climate. The zoo has previously had to close and evacuate the animals in hurricane season. However, the new larger site will also enable it to renew its focus on conservation and education.

Dirk Beyer Butterfly Observation Outpost, at Alabama Gulf Coast's new zoo

The new zoo will open in March 2020. It will be home to around 600 animals, as well as a new attraction, the Dirk Beyer Butterfly Observation Outpost. In addition to this, there will be theme park-style attractions, rides and play areas, as well as food and drink, events, retail and entertainment.

15. St Louis Aquarium at Union Station

While this new aquarium project is in fact already open, it is one of the most cutting-edge aquariums around. The new attraction opened to the public in December 2019. It is designed by PGAV Destinations and operated by ZoOceanarium Group. The attraction is part of a $187 million family entertainment complex in St. Louis, Missouri. It is within the National Historic Landmark train shed at St. Louis Union Station.

lobby of St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, one of the top new zoo and aquarium projects

St Louis Aquarium at Union Station is on two floors and has a footprint of over 11,000 square metres. It is home to more than 13,000 aquatic animals, alongside high-tech displays. It aims to educate visitors and ignite a passion for conservation.

16. Houston Zoo

This summer, Houston Zoo will open its newest exhibit, South America’s Pantanal. This focuses on the tropical Brazilian wetlands, which are home to the continent’s greatest concentration of wildlife.

Here, visitors will be able to see animals native to this lush environment, such as jaguars, anteaters, tapirs, anacondas and more. The zoo is creating an engaging experience that takes guests on a journey through forests and grassland. There is also an immersive walkthrough aviary.

New zoo and aquarium projects still to come

Other exciting new zoo and aquarium projects are on the horizon too, looking ahead past the end of 2020.

reefLIVE is a high-tec aquarium planned for Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. The £12 million project is likely to open in spring 2021. The interior of the building has been devised by a leading team of aquarium designers, with Kay Elliot Architects at the helm.

reeflive aquarium projects belfast kay elliott

Meanwhile, Chester Zoo is working on a new Grassland area, which is expected to open in 2022. The African Savannah will be home to several rare and endangered species. The plans also include overnight accommodation and a restaurant.

Across the pond, Lincoln Park Zoo is working on a new lion habitat, due to open in 2021/2022. Further in the future, residents and visitors to Seattle will be able to enjoy the results of Seattle Aquarium’s $113 million expansion.

In Australia, Monarto Safari Park is planning an A$40 million expansion. This will see the addition of luxury resort and glamping facilities in 2022. Guests will also be able to enjoy new safari experiences.

Images kind courtesy of zoos and aquariums mentioned. 

Share this
charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

More from this author

Search for something

More from this author

Related content

Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Find out how to update