U.S. Funding Crustacean-Inspired $105 Million Aquarium In Brazil

A rendering of the Acquario Aquarium in Fortaleza, Brazil.

A rendering of the Acquario Aquarium in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo courtesy of International Concept Management)

The U.S. soccer team may not have played in Fortaleza, but that doesn’t mean the United States isn’t leaving a permanent mark on that northeastern city.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank, a federal entity, has leant the Brazilian state of Ceará – home to Fortaleza – a whopping $105 million to build what will likely be the world’s most recognizable aquarium.

A truly architectural statement, when competed in 2015 the aquarium will resemble a giant, stretched-out oyster shell. And it will be constructed mostly of materials from the United States.

“An anticipated tourist attraction, the aquarium will boast four floors housing 25 large tanks containing approximately 15 million liters of water and showcasing 500 marine species and 35,000 individual specimens,” the Export-Import Bank said in a press release.  “When completed, Acquario will rank as the largest aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest in the world.”

For American citizens wary of handing over more than $100 million to Brazil to build an aquarium, especially in these tough economic times, the Export-Import Bank said that the project will create 700 jobs in the U.S. The Latin American branch of an Ohio design firm was employed to create the layout of the aquarium, a metals firm in Missouri is putting together the aquarium’s "crustaceo-exoskeleton," and an aquarium maker from Colorado is overseeing its construction.

"The otherworldly Acquario Ceara is basically a Midwestern export," wrote The Atlantic’s CityLab blogger Kirston Capps.

What has been billed as a win-win for both the U.S. and Brazil may not be so for Fortaleza. While the city is claiming that the new tourist attraction will draw in 12 million visitors when completed, Fortaleza only drew in 219,430 international visitors in 2010 and it seems unlikely – even given the tourism boost cities get from new architectural projects i.e. the Bilbao Effect – that an aquarium is likely to change those numbers too much.

Brazilians angry at the massive federal spending for the World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio have one more qualm with the aquarium, which they say the funding for it could be used to improve public services. Ceará is the fifth-poorest Brazilian state and did not reap the benefits of the World Cup in terms of infrastructure construction that other states in the country did.

“Like fish in a fishbowl, everyone's watching Acquario Ceara, but only time will tell if the new aquarium will make a splash,” Hannah Weinberger of Outside Magazine wrote.

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