(Sponsored content) Audubon Aquarium Tunnel.JPG

Visitors observe aquatic animals at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas will close at the end of November for at least six months as part of the $41 million renovation project currently underway on the riverfront building and nearby grounds, officials said.

Melissa Lee, a spokesperson for the Audubon Nature Institute, said recently that the plan is for the aquarium to reopen next summer as a new attraction that combines the aquarium with the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, which was shuttered in 2020 in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new name for the combined attraction will be the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium.

As part of the upgrade — the biggest renovation of the aquarium since it opened at the foot of Canal Street in 1990 — the Entergy Giant Screen Theater is being removed to make room for the insectarium exhibits.

New lobby, exhibits

Rendering Aquarium

Audubon Nature Institute is renovating the aquarium and adding a new lobby for the attraction that is being combined with the insectarium. It's slated to open in summer 2023. (Rendering via Audubon Nature Institute)

The renovation, which was announced in May, will add 17,000 feet of exhibit space inside the existing walls of the aquarium, in addition to another 2,500 square feet of breezeway space that will be enclosed. At the time of the announcement, Audubon Chief Operating Officer Kyle Burks said officials had hoped that the attraction would be able to stay open through the renovation process, or that any closure would be short lived.

The entrance to the attraction will move downriver about 90 feet. An enclosed, 60-foot tall glass lobby is being built that will be shared by the aquarium and the insectarium.

Audubon lobby rendering

Audubon is building a shared lobby for the new Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium. (Rendering via Audubon Nature Institute)

The space once used by the IMAX theater is being divided into two floors.

The first floor will be a special event space, officials said, and the second floor will be used to house the insectarium galleries, including the butterfly pavilion. Plans call for the new butterfly exhibit to have lower ceilings than in the previous space so visitors can get a better view.

The insectarium was known for serving edible dishes that incorporated bugs, such as a cricket pumpkin pie. A "cultural cafe" will be part of the new attraction, and insects will be on the menu again, according to plans from Audubon.

Rendering Aquarium

One of the galleries inside the new Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium will focus on pollinators.

On the aquarium side, several exhibits are getting upgrades, including the Mississippi River Gallery, the Amazon Rainforest Gallery and the Top of the Gulf Experience.

Parakeet Pointe, the outdoor area where visitors could feed parakeets, will not be returning, Lee said. They have already been moved to aviaries at other facilities.

Additional large birds will move into the rainforest area, though.

Some animals will move

Rendering Aquarium

The new 60-foot glass entrance will be located about 90 feet downriver from the current one.

Some of the animals will move due to the construction, but most will stay in their current enclosures during the renovations, Lee said.

The two sea otters were moved to another aquarium while their habitat is being renovated, she said. Sea otters will return, but she said they most likely will be a new pair.

The moray eels and the seahorses have moved already too — some to partner facilities and others elsewhere at Audubon's facilities.

Early next year, work will start on the popular penguin exhibit and the entire colony will move into another pool that's behind the scenes, she said.

The pool allows them to swim and nest much like in their regular enclosure.

Additional animals can move to Audubon's behind-the-scenes facilities if needed, officials said.

Discount for memberships

Rendering Aquarium

The new entranceway is a large atrium area with brighter, more open space than the previous one. 

Audubon currently is offering a 15% off membership sale, with Lee calling it a "significant discount" for new and returning members "in anticipation of the upcoming renovations."

Audubon sells annual memberships that include admission to all the facilities — the zoo, aquarium, IMAX and the nature center. Admission to the insectarium was included when it was open.

See the breakdown for each membership level. 

Changes at Woldenberg Park


Construction is underway to revitalize the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

In addition to the $34 million for renovations to the aquarium, the institute also has proposed $7 million in upgrades at Woldenberg Park, focusing on the entrances, landscaping and electrical system.

The improvements are aimed partly at making it more accommodating to the festivals that are growing in number and size in the space.

Plans before the City Planning Commission include additional green space and reworked pathways throughout the park. 

Rendering of Woldenberg park

Audubon Nature Institute has proposed $7 million in upgrades at Woldenberg Park, focusing on the entrances, landscaping and electrical system. Here's a rendering for the riverfront park. The new entrance to the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium is visible in the background. (Image via Audubon Nature Institute)

Reopening date

A specific opening date has not been announced for the renovated attraction, but it is expected to be closed for at least six months.

The hope is that the revived attraction will drive move visits, with Lee projecting a 30% increase in annual guest totals.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the aquarium averaged 700,000 visitors annually and the insectarium averaged about 200,000, she said. The zoo is Audubon's busiest attraction, averaging about 800,000 visitors annually.

Read more about the project. 

Staff writer Anthony McAuley contributed to this report.

Rendering of Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium exterior

An architect's rendering of the exterior of the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium after a $41 million renovation that is slated to be completed next year.

Carlie Kollath Wells is a breaking news reporter at NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune.