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The Audubon Aquarium details safety rules on the eve of reopening

The Aquarium of the Americas plans to welcome back visitors Thursday
Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 5:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - New Orleans takes another step toward some semblance of normal Thursday when the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas reopens.

“Safety and preparation for that has been our number one priority,” said Kyle Burks, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Audubon Nature Institute.

The Audubon Zoo, also affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns this year, reopened weeks ago.

“We chose to not open the aquarium, but instead to focus on the zoo,” Burks said. “It gave us a chance to understand and learn.”

Burks said the result is strict safety protocols, which include: social distancing; a requirement that visitors and staff wear mask; one-way traffic through the exhibits; and online, time-specific ticketing.

The Aquarium will also limit capacity to under 25 percent, allowing only 100 new guests to enter the aquarium per half hour.

“We have to count on our guests to help distance and pay attention.”

Like other large zoos and aquariums, Audubon could also use the revenue.

It has estimated the COVID-19 shutdowns would cost about $21 million over four months.

The aquarium offers a rare, large indoor attraction to escape the summer heat, but drawing attendance may prove more challenging than at the zoo.

While locals make up the majority of visitors to the Audubon Zoo, tourists regularly account for about 65 percent of aquarium visitors.

On the other hand, Burks noted online buyers scooped up about 1,000 tickets after they went on sale Monday.

“We are being as optimistic as we can be, but we’re also being cautious.”

Meanwhile, some of the regular occupants seem to be curious about the increased traffic inside as staffers prepare for the reopening.

“When we reopened the zoo, it was very clear that the animals were just as excited as our guests,” Burks said.

On Wednesday, the otters, especially, seemed to take note of the activity as the aquarium prepared to welcome back the humans.

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