Mystic Aquarium: Milne Center for Ocean Science and Conservation

Design and Build of Aquaculture Tanks and Filtration System


The Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT inspires visitors to care for and protect our oceans through conservation, education, and research, such as unique Beluga whale and Steller sea lion habitats and blockbuster collaborations with celebrated ocean explorers like Dr. Robert Ballard. In 2020, the Mystic Aquarium further strengthened its commitment to educating the next generation of marine biologists and environmental scientists by constructing the Milne Center for Ocean Science and Conservation. 

Not only does this $10 million facility provide a new home for the Sea School and environmental research, the Milne Center also makes it possible for the Mystic Aquarium to move from wild capture of wildlife to breeding their own jellyfish, fish, corals, and other animals—a key conservation goal for this storied institution.

Their choice to design, build, deliver, and install the extensive and complex life support systems needed to support all these innovative new research and breeding programs? It could only be Tenji.


  • The size and scope of the Milne Center meant the design and build process would unfold over years rather than months.
  • From architects to board members to construction crews, completing the Milne Center would require close collaboration between a wide range of skilled scientists, craftsmen, engineers, designers, funders, and educators. Open and effective communication and clear plans, schedules, and visualizations would be key to the project’s success.
  • The 6,000sf footprint allotted to the aquaculture and invertebrate research facility might seem expansive but was, in fact, quite limited for the equipment required. The layout of tanks, filtration systems, plumbing, and other complex infrastructure would need to both maximize the available space while allowing ease of use and movement for staff to clean, calibrate, repair, and maintain the equipment over time.
  • To further complicate the space and layout considerations, the Mystic Aquarium needed the facility to provide a tour path allowing outside visitors, researchers, and students to safely observe this highly controlled environment.
  • Some components of the life support system—such as the 30-foot fiberglass tank—were so large and complex only an elite design and build team like Tenji with robust remote construction capability could be trusted to engineer, manufacture, deliver, and install them.
  • The logistics of the project demanded extraordinary project management capacity, such as the ability to load and ship eight semi trucks fully loaded with delicate materials and precision instruments cross-country. 
  • And like all high-profile projects for internationally recognized institutions, the exhibit needed to be completed to the highest quality standards—a truly turnkey experience for the Mystic Aquarium, delivered on time and on budget.


The Milne Center was a true test of Tenji’s dedicated, in-house design and engineering team and they exceeded all expectations. Gathering the Milne Center’s many project stakeholders around the table to talk about the possibilities and parameters was just the beginning. Our staff of skilled aquatic engineers, scientists, and builders made sure everyone could visualize the finished product, understood the plan, and was kept appraised of progress.

The tenji process turns complex information into relatable, understandable forms, and channeling cutting edge LSS technology and construction techniques lead to powerful innovations:

  • 2D and 3D modeling of all key components and layouts prior to construction and delivery.
  • Seamless and effective project management and procurement for all phases of this complex design and build.
  • Tank and vessel design, including a 30’ diameter fiberglass tank, capable of supporting a wide range of sea life, from whales to sharks. Each tank was designed for ease of maintenance and exceeds AZA standards.
  • Strategic use of the limited floor plan to create a functional tour path offering access for visitors without impeding staff access to critical LSS, electricity, and plumbing components.
  • Remote construction of components within our dedicated construction facility in Monterey, CA, delivered swiftly and securely to Mystic, CT.
  • A focused one-month installation of all system components perfectly timed with other phases of construction to keep the project on track.
  • Energy- and cost-saving advances such as VFD pumps, water quality monitoring, and low backwash filters with glass media to maximize power and water usage in line with the Mystic Aquarium’s commitment to conservation and careful stewardship of resources.  

As the Mystic Aquarium begins to reopen to the public after the COVID19 shutdown, the impeccably designed life support systems within the Milne Center continue to function flawlessly and mature toward their full operational capacity. When a multi-year, multiphase project with an extraordinary number of participants and moving parts comes together perfectly, that is the true spirit of tenji.