Construction echoes through the halls of the Florida Museum of Natural History as the eagerly anticipated Water Shapes Florida exhibit takes form. Opening March 23, 2024, the exciting new exhibition will showcase Florida’s unique freshwater systems and detail the crucial role water plays in shaping our lives.

By taking visitors on an immersive journey, this space is primed to captivate them with a plethora of experiences, including hands-on interactives and a simulated glass-bottom-boat adventure. The new features of Water Shapes Florida will be displayed in tandem with revitalized elements from its predecessor, Northwest Florida: Waterways & Wildlife.

“Our Northwest Florida exhibit was over 20 years old and in desperate need of new electric, lighting and dynamic interactivity. We are building on the foundation of the floodplain forest and cave to create an in-depth exploration of our amazing springs and underground aquifer,” said Dale Johnson, Operations Manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “It’s critical to our future that each of us understand our water resources and how our actions today affect what we drink tomorrow.”

unfinished glass bottom boat experience
The glass-bottom boat theater has been structured and awaits fabrication. ©Florida Museum/Dale Johnson

The exhibit hopes to inspire visitors to learn more about Florida’s most important natural resource: water. The space provides an in-depth exploration of water’s central role in shaping the world around us. Visitors can traverse a cave or examine a lush forest to gain insight on water’s role in natural processes. A glass-bottom-boat theater takes guests on an immersive adventure through some of the Sunshine State’s most famous springs, and interactive graphics teach visitors about current water issues. These diverse components work together to express water’s central role in life on Earth in an exciting and interactive way.

Development of Water Shapes Florida is progressing swiftly and steadily. In the “demolition” phase of construction, pieces from the previous exhibit were meticulously removed to create space for the arrival of fresh elements. Now, floors and walls have been restructured and work on new exhibit components is underway. While embracing change, the museum also retains two fan favorite elements from the Northwest Florida exhibit—the hammock forest and the limestone cave—which are being rejuvenated by receiving refreshing lighting, audio and immersive technologies.

exhibit parts on the ground
Pieces of the previous exhibit, like the giant pitcher plant model, have been carefully removed from the space. ©Florida Museum/Dale Johnson

“The Northwest Florida exhibit is the first I worked on here at the museum, and now over 20 years later, I’m honored to spearhead the design and renovation. Saying goodbye to some well-loved components was hard, but knowing the magic we are creating is truly exciting,” Dale said.

The visionary forces behind Water Shapes Florida include Dale and the exhibit development team at the Florida Museum, headed by Julie Waters. This team is working closely with BFrank Studio, HealyKohler Design, The Brentwood Company and the Richard Lewis Media Group to bring the elaborate new space to life. The Brentwood Company has been tasked with overseeing crucial structural aspects of the exhibit, while the Richard Lewis Media Group develops captivating video elements to be viewed throughout.

“As a museum we do not fall under a normal build. All these teams take part in making sure we are working towards these goals,” said Exhibit Engineer Mike Adams.

Along with safety, sustainability is a priority of the construction process. Practices such as utilizing chemical-free paint, applying products made from natural materials and re-homing elements from previous exhibits have been implemented to prioritize the environment as Water Shapes Florida comes to fruition.

Past Florida Museum exhibit elements have found homes at numerous locations across the state of Florida. The beloved Terrence the Turtle now sparks imagination at the Headquarters branch of the Alachua County Library District, while other pieces have found homes at institutions like the University of Florida Department of Geological Sciences, the Florida Park Service and the Indian Temple Mound Museum.

As Water Shapes Florida inches closer to completion, the promise of this new exhibit looms large. This testament to innovation, sustainability, and the art of storytelling is set to inspire and enthrall all who step through its doors.