8 Great Years of the Coral Reef Exhibit

In late summer of 2004, PPZ became home to a coral reef exhibit featuring over 30 invertebrates and fish. The room that the exhibit was built in was not intended to house species, which proved extra challenges in installing and maintaining such a complex system. Nevertheless, this exhibit was completed and became a visitor favorite over the next 8 years, showcasing some fascinating fish and corals that are found in the oceans.

The coral reef exhibit at PPZ will come to an end in a few weeks on March 6th, and I sat down with our education curator, Dennis Laidler and zookeeper Heather Stults to talk about the exhibit closing and next steps for the species and the space.

Coral Reef Room at Potter Park Zoo
Q: Why is the coral reef exhibit closing now?

DL: The coral reef exhibit was brought to PPZ in 2004 with the intention of being a 3-year installation. We are thrilled that it became such a popular exhibit and that it held up for 8 years - almost 3 times what we anticipated! However, it’s now to the point where over 90% of the infrastructure needs to be replaced. This would require major funding as well as extensive amount of time to allow for proper reconstruction. We decided it’s time to return the space to its original purpose.

Q: Where will the species go once they leave PPZ?

DL: Many of the species will be sent to another Association of Zoos & Aquariums institution in Michigan, while the rest will head back to Preuss Pets in Old Town Lansing (where most of the species originally arrived from 8 years ago).

Coral Fish at Potter Park Zoo

Q: What are some highlights of the coral reef exhibit from the last 8 years?

HS: It’s been such a pleasure working with the diverse species in the coral reef room. One of the biggest successes we’ve had is breeding the Banggai Cardinalfish and raising the offspring from youth to adulthood. Many other types of fish have bred as well. I’d say my favorite part of this exhibit was how much people responded to it. It engaged kids at a younger age than some of the other exhibits because kids could see entire ecosystems, not just a tank with fish in it. They recognized some of the species because of Finding Nemo, too, which was always cool to observe.

Q: What will the space be used for?

DL: It will be used as a multipurpose classroom, its original intent. There is an increased demand for education programming, so we’re glad to be making space for more classes.

Q: When will the exhibit be going away?

HS: People can still visit the coral reef exhibit until March 6th. We’re sad to see this exhibit leave, but we’ve very excited for some of the new exhibits we have on the horizon this year - moose and bison.

Coral Reef Room at Potter Park Zoo