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New aquarium and conservation center at Riverbanks Zoo opens its doors

Christina Lee Knauss //March 7, 2023//

New aquarium and conservation center at Riverbanks Zoo opens its doors

Christina Lee Knauss //March 7, 2023//

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For Sean Foley, the new Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium and Reptile Conservation Center at Riverbanks Zoo is a dream come true.

Foley is curator of herpetology for Riverbanks Zoo, and he spends his days working with the wide array of snakes, reptiles and amphibians that call the zoo home.

The new facility, which officially opened on March 2, allows Foley more space to share the species he loves with the public.

With the support of the Boyd Foundation, the zoo’s existing aquarium underwent multi-million-dollar renovations that transformed the building located at the center of the zoo property into a state-of-the-art animal care and conservation facility. New features include immersive habitat displays such as temperate and tropical rain forests and deserts, conservation labs, and a giant wall of moon jellyfish.

Visitors who attended the opening got to see all of the changes firsthand, including floor-to-ceiling glass that allow a better view of animals in their natural habitats, including many of the snakes Foley regularly works with such as cottonmouth, bushmaster and the popular green anaconda.

Through the facility’s new terrestrial lab, Foley said people will get a close-up perspective on many of the zoo’s conservation efforts, including work to save South Carolina’s endangered gopher frogs as well as geckos from around the world.  

 “This has been quite an amazing trip over the past year and a half – transforming the building has been an incredible process,” Foley said in an interview with SC Biz News. “This gives us a great chance to show off the conservation efforts we’re doing here that many people didn’t ever get to actually see before.”

Foley and other zoo staff members mixed with community leaders and visitors from around the state at the official opening, which also drew Gov. Henry McMaster.

In a whimsical moment, zoo officials gifted Susan Boyd of the Boyd Foundation with a large plush octopus. Boyd’s favorite animal is an octopus, and, in her honor, a Pacific octopus named Susie will be arriving to be one of the main features in the aquarium at a future date.

Mrs. Boyd said she and her late husband Darnall developed a deep love for Riverbanks Zoo shortly after it opened in 1974, and his passion for Riverbanks and its mission made supporting the new aquarium project an easy decision.

“I have enjoyed being part of this project at every step of the way,” Boyd said.

Interest in the new aquarium and conservation center has been running high, according to Tommy Stringfellow, president and CEO of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden  In the days leading up to March 2, about 6,000 of the zoo’s members got a sneak peek at the aquarium, and people from around the state and the region had been calling non-stop asking about when the facility would open, Stringfellow said.

All of the attention was welcome after the many months of hard work involved in getting the new aquarium up and running, Stringfellow said. He gave special credit to Boyer Construction of Columbia, the main contractor for the project, who got the work done despite headaches such as supply-chain issues and delays brought on by the pandemic.

“Those that were here in the thick of the work deserve thanks – there were a lot of sleepless nights,” Stringfellow said. “Now what we have thanks to the Boyds is a gift for all the citizens of South Carolina.”