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Aquarium–Port Collaboration: Part of Seattle's Waterfront Transformation

Nov 22, 2022

Commissioner Fred Felleman touring the construction of the Seattle Aquarium’s Ocean Pavilion on November 9, 2022.

Our waterfront’s transformation is emerging from the rubble of the Viaduct. Key to this generational effort is the reconnection of Seattle to its origins.

The sheltered waters of Elliott Bay, tucked within Puget Sound and fed by the salmon-laden Duwamish River, drew tribes to the region since time immemorial. These glacially-carved waterways subsequently lured explorers and settlers from around the world who were awed by its natural wealth and harbors for trade.

The centerpiece of the waterfront’s transformation will be the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion. It will also draw visitors from far and wide to marvel at our region’s aquatic riches and to understand the common challenges and opportunities that exist across the Pacific to maintain the delicate balance between the natural and built environments.

Connecting Pike Place Market to the waterfront with a literal and figurative bridge to its four-story high rooftop park, the Pavilion will afford the public expansive views of the harbor and designs rooted in Native American art and traditions.

The Port of Seattle has made significant investments in the Ocean Pavilion as we share many values with the Aquarium, including the need to foster a “one ocean” ethic, especially across the Pacific. The Pavilion will illustrate such efforts and the opportunities to maintain a sustainable relationship with the sea.

As part of that contribution, the Port is working with the Aquarium’s exhibit designers to create the Port Sound Walk. The exhibit will enable the public to hear as well as see what the title of Jacques Cousteau’s first book mischaracterized as “The Silent World.” This immersive auditory experience will enable visitors to understand how we are making efforts to reduce underwater noise caused by ships that can interfere with the calls made by acoustically sensitive marine life such as orca whales.

The Seattle Waterfront is Remaking Itself. The Ocean Pavilion is shown at the base of an Overlook Walk, with an expansive roof deck and view area. Rendering image courtesy of LMN Architects, Seattle, WA.

Another important goal of the Ocean Pavilion is to be the world’s first regenerative aquarium by giving back more than it takes from the environment. This too is consistent with the Port’s efforts to reimagine the Ship Supply Building at Fishermen’s terminal to become a Maritime Innovation Center while enabling our oldest asset to achieve living building certification.

No matter how exciting it is to be part of these complimentary efforts, the connection between the Port and Aquarium extends far beyond the painstaking efforts to reduce the impacts of constructing and operating buildings.

As waterfront neighbors, it’s how our joint efforts impact our community and beyond that will be the true test of our collaboration. Rather than just identifying problems, in keeping with the theme portrayed throughout the Aquarium, we’re committed to supporting efforts to advance our co-existence with the marine environment.

For example, we are already collaborating to restore and protect local kelp beds — the critical forest habitats of the Salish Sea—and have been actively involved in the development of the Quiet Sound program to monitor and minimize underwater noise generated by ships when our endangered orcas are present. Complementary to the Aquarium’s work in the Coral Triangle, the Port is exploring ways to create green corridors where ships along the trans-Pacific and Alaska trade routes will reduce their carbon footprints.

Another similarity of the Port and the Aquarium is our commitment to workforce development and equity. Together, we’re finding ways to promote and create a more diverse maritime workforce. We know that there is much more that needs to be done to expand the ocean’s constituency for the future and our mutual success.

The Port and the Aquarium are connected fundamentally by a commitment to be stewards of the marine environment and all those dependent on it. As the public reconnects with the waterfront during its transformation, we’re looking to expand our collaboration to help people learn about our region’s greatest liquid asset along with new opportunities to be engaged.

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