Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center

Topic: Other Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Jan Spoerri

Published on October 24, 2007

  • Description and goals

    The main exhibit in the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center introduces visitors to the several distinct habitats found in the reserve and illustrates what the staff and visiting scientists do in their important roles as researchers and stewards.

    -At the entrance to the exhibit is a 10x scale model of a polkadot batfish which is an unusual and interesting inhabitant of the reserve. The intent was to create an initial “wow!” and to encourage visitors to take closer looks at all the things they might find in the reserve.

    -A sculpted osprey and nest are perched on the welcome sign. A mechanical interactive allows visitors to manipulate a pole mounted mirror similar to those scientists use to count eggs in such nests.

    -On the backside of the welcome sign is a media program projected onto a screen from within the ceiling controlled by a touch screen monitor that allows different stories about the area’s unique watershed to be accessed. The intent was to allow families and small groups to share the experience.

    -The “backbone” of the exhibit is an 80’ long curved entablature that scrolls above the main exhibit wall. Eight different habitats are depicted in the artwork which was a hand painted watercolor by a local artist. For each of the different habitats, exhibits below the entablature address interesting things about what is going on at the reserve in that habitat.

    -In the barrier island section, a diorama illustrates how least terns nest and lay their eggs directly in the open sand. The goal was to explain why sometimes they need to restrict access to certain areas of the reserve at certain times.

    -For the back bay section, models of different shark species swim into and out of the wall while a shark tagging research study is outlined on the reader rail. A green sea turtle and full sized manatee with prop scars is floating overhead with electronic monitoring devices attached.

    -Interesting scientific instruments are displayed, ranging from simple devices such as a trawling net, a water opacity measuring disk, a soil sampling dredge, to more sophisticated devices like computerized buoys that record many types of data over time.

    -A rotating “fish wheel” has images and descriptions of many different species that might be found when trawling for specimens. Flip panels are used in other areas to layer text.

    -Six aquariums contain live specimens. A sea grass tank is at foot level, intended to be viewed from above as well as from the front.

    -An oyster tank has many critters from that habitat as well as an actual “crab condo” device that scientists use to measure the amount and types of certain indicator species.

    -A larger mangrove tank includes an alcove that allows visitors to crawl “into” the tank near the prop roots. The goal was to have visitors experience how the mangroves provide a sanctuary and nursery for smaller fish. The top of the alcove was just below the surface allowing for a touch tank work surface. Starfish, crabs and such can be viewed from below in the alcove.

    -Above the mangrove tank is a 20’ tall mangrove tree which serves as a rookery populated with many carved birds. A decision was made not to use any taxidermy in the exhibit.

    -Other smaller aquariums contain “the catch of the day” from actual trawls that they do regularly to monitor the health of the reserve.

    -A video display continuously scrolls footage of the back bays and other parts of the reserve as viewed from the water.

    - A 10x scale model depicts the activity in a section of a mudflat which is another significant habitat at the reserve. Discovery doors and magnifiers reveal many interesting things about what might otherwise look like just mud.

    -In the uplands section, many non-native invasive plant, fish and amphibian specimens are displayed. The reserve has several ongoing projects to address these problems.

    -A controlled burn diorama illustrates how many plants and animals will survive smaller frequent fires, whereas they might not survive larger less frequent fires. Tools that rangers use for starting and controlling fires are displayed.

    -A large window overlooks a working lab where visitors can interact in two way communication with staff scientists. A microscope station allows for viewing prepared specimens and open-ended discovery.

    -Other models include a 24’ oarfish, and a 100x scale mosquito with a display describing how research performed at the reserve led to more effective and less environmentally damaging mosquito control methods.

    -Other exhibits included a small children’s area with a mangrove puppet stage and story area.

    -A second phase of exhibits on the second floor completed the following year addressed more cultural issues regarding the history of human use of the area and the recent efforts that resulted in the reserve’s preservation.

  • Development process and challenges

    This project was a fixed price design/build contract. From the awarding of the contract to the opening day gala was a mere 14 months. This included all design, development, prototyping and fabrication. The RBNERR staff exhibit team was very helpful in identifying and communicating their priorities so that we could allocate resources as efficiently as possible. Because it was a design/build, we were able to identify several major components that we were able to go into production on very quickly while the rest of the exhibit evolved. This was critical in our maximizing the quality and quantity of the artistic elements we were able to produce. The sooner we were able to start making things, the sooner we were able to get feedback from all team members. This was only possible with the design/build arrangement.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    Design/build arrangements are very efficient and result in increased value for the client both in terms of quantity and quality. The sooner you can go into production, the better.

  • Exhibition Opened: February 2003

  • Exhibition Still Open!

  • Traveling Exhibition: No

  • Location: Naples, FL, United States

  • Estimated Cost: $1,000,000 to $3,000,000 (US)

  • Size: 3,000 to 5,000

  • Other funding source(s): Florida Dept of Environmental Protection, NOAA

  • Website(s):

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