Surrounded by plants, two yellow-crowned Amazon parrots perched together and swiveled their heads back and forth. Nearby, a scarlet macaw squawked loudly, as a turtle peeked its head out of the water and a sloth hung lazily in a tree.
The National Aquarium’s Upland Tropical Rain Forest reopened Tuesday following the completion of a monthslong project to replace all 684 panes of glass in the aquarium’s iconic pyramid, which encloses the exhibit that is meant to recreate the conditions of a South American rainforest.
The renovation project, which officially began on March 3, involved replacing the pyramid’s glass one pane at a time, said John Racanelli, the aquarium’s president and CEO.
The original glass on the pyramid was about 42 years old, installed when the aquarium was built. Over time, due to the natural aging process, the seal between the double-paned glass started to fail, and the panes needed to be replaced, Racanelli said.
The $8 million project received $7 million from the state, as well as grants from Baltimore, Baltimore County and the Abell Foundation, according to a February press release.
Local and state officials joined Racanelli and aquarium staff among the plants and animals for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the exhibit’s reopening.
Racanelli said the new glass has many added benefits.
The old panes were letting in too many ultraviolet rays and too much heat, creating “hot spots” that were bad for the exhibit’s plants, he said.
The new glass is permanently acid-etched, meaning it is able to “even-out light transmission, and filter out UV rays,” Racanelli said
The acid-etched panes are safer for migratory birds, as well, with a frosted look that is more visible to birds and can protect them from striking it. The pyramid is now 100% bird safe, according to Racanelli.
Other improvements were added to the exhibit, like protective wire to ensure birds can’t get caught or injured in the rafters, and an upgraded fogging system that will keep the space at a higher humidity to make it more like the Amazon, Racanelli said.
Updated graphics around the space describe plants, trees and animals. There’s the golden-bellied grosbeak, a relative of the cardinal that “uses its short, heavy beak to break open and feed on seeds,” according to one graphic. Others have information on the screaming piha, the turquoise tanager and the smooth-sided toad, to name a few.
Racanelli and government officials also emphasized the new colorful LED lights added along the pyramid’s edges. Most nights they will shine blue for the aquarium, but the colors can change to purple and orange to support the hometown sports teams.
“Finally, finally, we can join in the celebration for Ravens and Orioles mania,” Racanelli said Tuesday morning.
The old glass — 46 tons of it — will “get crushed up and become the reflective material in the striping in the lanes of highways,” Racanelli said.
“We didn’t waste a single piece of glass,” he added.