ROTTERDAM -- The Via Aquarium at ViaPort Rotterdam mall will open a new exhibit highlighting the aquatic life of the Amazon Basin at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
For the "Amazon Experience," the second of the two walk-through tunnels at the aquarium has been changed to feature an Amazon environment. It replaces the Caribbean reef exhibit.
The exhibit will allow visitors to look around as though they were underwater with 15 different species of unusual South American animals, including schools of piranha and poisonous frogs, as well as some large fish unique to the Amazon.
"We thought, how cool would it be if you can look up and see arowana -- it's a fish from the Amazon River that can grow three or four feet long, and they jump up out into the air to catch their prey," said aquarium General Manager Tom Lavin.
The debut of "Amazon Experience" is the first major renovation since the aquarium opened in 2016. The project has been in planning since June, including converting what was previously a salt water tank to fresh water.
"We're trying to keep everything fresh and new, for new people and season passholders to come in and see something new," Lavin said.
He said people seem to be fascinated by the Amazon, the mysterious and vast river system that stretches 4,000 miles through Brazil's rain forests.
"It's one of the last great wildernesses," Lavin said. "It's beautiful and green, and the animals are unique. It's kind of like the last wild place on Earth -- where there's still new species being discovered and also where, because of deforestation, species are being lost."
Some of the fish in the exhibit came from South America, though others were "rescued" from hobbyists whose pets became too big to handle.
"The majority, if not all the fish we have in these exhibits, are unique to to the Amazon," Lavin said.
He said the aquarium is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to allow the exhibit of a dwarf cayman, an alligator-like underwater predator that can grow up to 5 feet long, but it won't be ready for Saturday's grand opening.
The Amazon exhibit is expected to be permanent.