Fishbowl access dominant

Tallahassee resident Sheri Marquis spends Thursday morning with her mother Emma Lou Marquis of Maitland at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa. The two leave the "Fish Bowl" observatory where only one of the two could take in the underwater view. Presently the observatory doesn't afford those in wheelchairs the opportunity to go beneath the surface in the observatory. "I think that would be wonderful," said Emma Lou Marquis of the possibility of wheelchair access underwater. "Because I had to wait at the top of the stairs," she said as her daughter viewed the aquatic life below the surface.

THE ISSUE:

Underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park needs TLC.

OUR OPINION:

Fix it.


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.

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