A first look inside the controversial Austin Aquarium


by TERRI GRUCA / KVUE News and photojournalist J.P. HARRINGTON

Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE


Posted on September 11, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 12 at 7:00 AM

AUSTIN -- For the first time we're getting an inside look at the controversial Austin Aquarium.

Plagued with permit questions and accusations of animal abuse in other cities, the owners wanted you to see what's really going on behind closed doors.  

It may not look like much now, but in a matter of months it's expected to be Austin's newest family attraction.

"I think of my son who’s ten. What would he want? That's the way everything in here is designed," said co-owner Vince Covino.

The Austin Aquarium is personal for Covino.

“I moved my family down here," he said.

The father of five co-owns the aquarium with his brother. They expect to start filling the tanks with water in a few weeks.

"So you literally ship the water here?” KVUE asked. “All of it from the Gulf of Mexico," said Covino. 

From sharks to seals, the aquarium is expected to feature more than 3,000 creatures. 

“You'll have anemones and sea stars and all sorts of neat little creatures. Hundreds and hundreds of species,” he said. 

Critics argue this is no way for animals to live. But the owners say there's a lot that goes into determining the size of the tanks. 

"The AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) gives you certain guidelines the tanks should be,” said Covino. “Our tanks are without exception between double and quintuple the suggested size."       

The project continues to be plagued by protests and problems. PETA and the Humane Society are investigating the Covino’s aquarium in Portland after 200 animals died.

Vince Covino’s brother Ammon, co-owner of the Austin Aquarium, is expected to plead guilty later this month to illegally purchasing two lemon sharks without a federal permit shipping them from Florida to Idaho. He did have an Idaho state permit and thought that was all that was needed. The sharks are still alive.

But the legal trouble triggered UT Austin to pull out of the Aquarium’s educational exhibit.

"It's far too expensive to bring them here and then let them get sick," said Covino, about questions over how they care for the animals.

He said some of the animals that will live in the Austin Aquarium have been neglected or hurt, like the turtles. Some were injured by boat propellers.

"If they didn't have a place to go they wouldn't have a place to live," he said.     

The work continues and so does the family’s mission to build an interactive learning spot.

"I believe it's good for families. I believe it's good for the community," said Covino.

They just hope Austin will give them a chance.

Covino said the aquarium is a few weeks behind schedule. It is now slated to open in early December.