Underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park needs TLC.
The Fish Bowl underwater observatory in the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is a local treasure that has enthralled visitors for over a half century. Floating above the large spring vent that feeds the Homosassa River, the observatory lets the public get close and personal to fish and manatees without ever getting wet.
Walking around inside and watching fish and manatees through the 15 windows in the observatory is like being in an aquarium, except you are the ones inside, and the animals you are observing are freely swimming into and out of view.
But the 55-year-old observatory is showing its age. The windows are scratched, and despite weekly cleanings by volunteer divers, they become cloudy, obscuring the view. Further, the observatory does not comply with ADA requirements, so people with physical disabilities can only see the view by television cameras.
The last time windows were replaced was in 1993, and they need replacement. But replacing them requires lifting the structure out of the water, and the cost of the windows and the cost of lifting the more than 110 ton structure to replace them is estimated to be $500,000 to $750,000.
While there are no immediate plans for upgrades to provide handicap access and replace the windows, park management is considering how this can be accomplished.
Given the funding levels for state parks, obtaining the funding for this major project may be difficult.
But these upgrades need to be funded and to occur. Public support will be necessary to support them, and we encourage this public discussion and input into needed upgrades to preserve and protect the fish bowl.
This a unique and historic structure. Whether it should be upgraded or replaced with another one is a valid question, but whatever the decision, an underwater observatory needs to remain a part of the wildlife park for future generations to enjoy.