1 of 3
Mike Terry, Deseret News
Visitors view the South American portion of Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy on May 14.

"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement," wrote environmentalist Rachel Carson. "It is our own misfortune that for most of us, that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood."

It's no surprise that Carson's statement graces a wall at the Living Planet Aquarium, which is a true place of wonder for both youngsters and adults. Filled with aquatic creatures from both near and far, the aquarium gives visitors an up-close look at an alien world.

"So much of what we have here is so far away from what we see in our every-day lives," says Angie Hyde, director of pubic relations and marketing at the aquarium. "Yet, here, you can see it, you can ever touch some of it. You can interact with species that are so very different."

The aquarium offers several major galleries. The Utah Water Gallery helps you appreciate the aquatic world closer to home, with such species as rainbow trout, Colorado River cutthroat trout, tiger and lake trout, as well as bullfrogs, salamanders and even brine shrimp.

From there, things get more exotic. In the Marine Gallery, you can bee such things as moray eels, several varieties of jellyfish, a giant Pacific octopus, a huge Northern lobster, and tiny sea horses.

In the Life on the Reef section, you can see brightly colored fish, coral, sharks and more.

The newest addition to the aquarium is the Journey to South America section, which opened at the end of February. In the Mayan-themed jungle-like area, you can see such intriguing animals as piranhas, pacu, Amazon catfish, giant arapaima, electric eels, freshwater stingrays, giant anacondas, poison arrow frogs, caimans (among the smallest crocodilians) and other animals found in the South American rainforests.

The 7,000 square-foot addition still has room for penguins from the Falkland Islands, Hyde says. "We are currently raising money for that, and hope to have it installed by next spring. It will feature two species of South American penguins."

While the South American gallery is the newest addition, the most popular station remains the Touch Pool, Hyde says. There you can actually touch the velvety-silk back of a Pacific stingray and contrast that with the feel of a spiny pencil urchin, a green brittle starfish or a horseshoe crab.

At the nearby Bio-Facts station, you can learn more about these invertebrates. In May, the station celebrated an Off "spring" Fling, by displaying some of the Aquarium's newest members: babies.

There were shark eggs, with a section cut away so you could see the tiny embryo. There were baby sea horses, piranha, and — less exotic, but very significant — least chub babies. "This is an endangered species in Utah, so we are very excited to have the babies," said Kristen Bonner, an education presenter at the Bio-Facts Station.

Although the babies were only on display for a short time and are now safely tucked away in the research center, there's always something exciting to see there, Bonner said. "It's so fun," she said, "to see the excitement and curiosity kids have about the natural world."

To help youngsters feed that curiosity and enjoy this water world, the Living Planet Aquarium is offering a full line-up of special "summer camps." Most are two-day programs, says summer camp program manager Eleasha Grossman, although there is a five-day "marine biologist in training for an internship" camp and a four-day camp that partners with Tracy Aviary to look at "super-powers of the sea vs. the sky."

Camps begin June 16 and run through Aug. 9, with various offerings for preschoolers up to 17-year-olds. Costs range from $40-$235. Registration is open until one week before any particular camp. For more information, you can visit www.thelivingplanet.com, call 801-495-4448, ext. 210 or visit the aquarium.

The camps are all "core-based, offer interaction with live animals and give the kids something to take home," Grossman says. "And if my level of excitement about them is any gauge, they are going to be a lot of fun."

The level of excitement in general at the aquarium is very high these days, Hyde says. They are currently enjoying what is only the middle phase of the total vision for the Living Planet Aquarium.

"When we get the penguins, then there is no more room here," she says. "But our ultimate goal is to build a 90,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility." Just where and when it will come about, will depend on private donations and sponsorships, she says, "but we're optimistic that it will happen within the next couple of years. We've had a lot of growth lately. We recently welcomed our one-millionth visitor, plus we recently broke records for one-day attendance with 3,181 visitors."

The Living Planet Aquarium started as a preview exhibit at the Gateway development in 2004. "We outgrew that and moved here in 2006. This is a nice interim facility, but we have one more big step to go, to create the world-class facility that we want and that we think the people of Utah deserve," Hyde says.

This may be a land-locked state, far from the ocean, she says, "but that makes it more important to bring that world here."

For, as Rachel Carson wrote, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder … he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

If you go . . .

What: The Living Planet Aquarium

Where: 725 E. 10600 South, Sandy

When: Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-7p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (summer hours)

How much: Adults 18 and older, $8; children, 3-17, $6; senior citizens, military personnel, students, $7

Phone: 801-495-4448

Web: www.thelivingplanet.com

E-mail: [email protected]