PCL Construction Breaks Ground on Unique Dolphin Habitat Attraction

Dive briefing:

  • Edmonton, Alberta-based PCL Construction began construction on a unique dolphin attraction at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, Florida late last month.
  • The 2-acre Dolphin Oasis is expected to cost more than $20 million, according to Aimee Brim, Gulfarium’s director of marketing and communications. The exhibit will feature three interconnected marine habitats for the dolphins to move between. The design also includes back home habitats, filtration systems and a hydraulic lift to bring animals to the water’s surface for medical treatment. It is expected to take 14 months and is expected to open in the spring of 2023.
  • While the day-to-day construction of Dolphin Oasis is little different from any other project, the habitat requires higher quality materials and special attention to noise and vibration management, said Rick Goldman, PCL Construction vice president and district manager for Orlando, Florida. Build dive. “The Material Section” [for Dolphin Oasis] is a bit of a higher standard, not just for the safety of the animals, but [because of] the corrosive nature of salt water,” Goldman told Construction Dive. “Your typical concrete, your typical rebar is not the same as your hotel or apartment next door. It’It will be a higher standard, higher specifications and higher quality materials.”

Dive insight:

Designed by Seattle-based MIG|Portico, the Dolphin Oasis will serve as an extension of Gulfarium’s existing dolphin exhibit, which has been in use since the park opened in 1955. The exhibit will be located on vacant lots on the north side of the park, and construction will not disrupt park operations.

A view of the presentation habitat in the Dolphin Oasis, currently under construction at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.

Permission granted by PCL Construction

Together, the three new marine habitats will support more than 1 million gallons of saltwater straight from the Gulf of Mexico. The largest of the three – where the presentations will take place – will accommodate up to 480 guests. The second largest will serve as the breeding ground for the Gulfarium’s breeding program and will offer a split-level view through a 27-foot window onto the pedestrian walkway.

On the north side of the site, the third habitat includes a beach and allows guests to interact with the dolphins both in and out of the water.

The PCL team is also building what is known as the “life support system,” an area behind the exhibit that will contain a series of water filters that remove oxidants from the water, allowing the habitats to support living fish.

Safe and sound

Building entertainment venues is a core business for PCL’s Orlando office, Goldman said. The company has completed a number of aquatic projects for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, including the Aquatica Orlando water park, completed in 2008, and an 875,000-square-foot saltwater reef and a series of new exhibits at Discovery Cove, also in Orlando, completed in 2011.

Construction noise and environmental impact are vital for the PCL Construction team to monitor over the course of the project – not only for the Gulfarium’s human neighbors, but also for the park’s animals and wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, Goldman said.

“A typical neighbor of a hotel or condominium can tell you when you’re keeping them up at night, or if the noise is too loud or the vibrations are irritating them,” Goldman said, “while the animals can’t talk to us. “We have to constantly work with the park operator and check that. We do that daily, starting with a daily huddle, first thing in the morning, and then checking in constantly throughout the day to make sure everyone is happy, including the animals.”

Although the Dolphin Oasis contract was awarded during the COVID-19 pandemic, Goldman said the team has not encountered any issues with the project related to the impact of the coronavirus on the industry.

“What we see in other projects is material shortages or material delays,” he said. “This project is mainly concrete and steel, if you will, those materials are readily available. There were slight increases, but we predicted that.”

This story has been updated to reflect the cost of the project.

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