The Aquarium, Aquatic Zoo or marine mammal facility represents a commitment to wildlife preservation and public awareness, providing enjoyment and education through profound experience, entertainment and participation. These facilities are inherently complex and must blend the requirements of visitors, operators and captive animals into a facility that can function reliably and economically.

Facilities may be subjectively classed into the following types:

Large sized, modern and technologically advanced aquariums, which maintain and display a variety of fish (local and exotic species), invertebrates, plants, birds, reptiles and marine mammals. Many have large underwater viewing windows and underwater tunnels. Most of these facilities provide an excellent low stress environment for captive animals supported by excellent life support systems, husbandry facilities and professional staff.

Small to medium sized, traditional type aquariums, displaying fish (mostly local and some exotic species), some invertebrates and possibly some plants in glass or acrylic tanks in a simple walk through gallery. These facilities typically operate medium to small displays and have less extensive support systems.

Small aquariums with small glass tanks or open ponds usually without an effective filtration system.

Traditional marine mammal facilities where animals are displayed and used as items of circus entertainment, are losing popularity as visitors become more aware of environmental and ethical issues. These facilities are being transformed or are being replaced with facilities where display animals are maintained in large environments with tactile and interactive components between visitor, staff, animal and environment.

The marine mammal environmental requirements are considerably different from that of fish and their life support and husbandry systems must cater for these differing needs.

Traditional zoological displays are beginning to discover the dramatic display and education possibilities of including visible high quality underwater display components for terrestrial animals which spend significant time in an aquatic environment. Animals such as elephants, hippopotamus, water buffalo, tiger, tapirs to name just a few, have the quality of their environment dramatically improved and demonstrate more active and natural behaviour within this more stimulating environment.

Recent developments have included large scale walk through habitats creating an experience that immerses the visitor in the environment to experience displays in the most dramatic and natural way.

Emphasis on ecological preservation and conservation through education and experience has also become a dominant feature. Technology has been exploited through interactive exhibitory and environment replication both within the exhibits, public areas and support facilities.

With these developments and the desire to provide increasingly natural and sophisticated exhibits, capital costs have risen dramatically. There must be a balance between what can be done and what is achievable within a sensible budget. Initial research including visitation projections, disposable income of the potential visitors, demographics, operating costs, staffing costs and supplementary income streams, together with expectation of a reasonable return on investment and, not least, the aspirations of the developer will determine the form that the proposed facility takes.