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Lighted drones to highlight Clearwater Aquarium’s mission

Bill DeYoung



One hundred fifty drones will take to the skies over Clearwater Marine Aquarium Saturday. All images provided.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is staying open past its regular bedtime Saturday to illuminate the dusk and darkness over Clearwater Bay.

There are no fireworks involved – no loud noises, no gunpowder smell, no negative environmental impacts of any kind. Nothing to make neighborhood dogs cower or howl.

Lights by the Bay features 150 lighted drones, synchronized by an operator on the Aquarium grounds, painting sky pictures of marine life. The flying machines are coordinated to music and narration.

Chief Operating Officer Anthony Rivera believes drone shows, which originated a dozen years ago in Austria, might just be a key element of the entertainment industry’s future.

For the CMA, he says, “It’s education and entertainment combined together. If we can find a way to educate our public and entertain them at the same time, we’ve hit a home run. Creating experiences that cause individuals to care about our environment is something we work hard at.”

Rivera joined the CMA staff in the spring of 2023, following a three-year stint as Senior Vice President of Operations at the Georgia Aquarium. He held similar positions at the 30 Rockefeller Center observation deck, Madame Tussauds and the American Museum of Natural History.

And he’s a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ “trends committee.”

Drones, Rivera says, “are becoming part of the everyday environment for general things – like Amazon using them to make deliveries. We even use drones to monitor animals in the wild, and track those that we tag. I think drones are here for a good long run. How they’re utilized to entertain is a step in the process of that journey, I think.

“Personally, we feel that anything that pulls away from fireworks is more environmentally-friendly. So if we get more people motivated and inspired to entertain their guests with these unique drone shows, I think that’s a great thing at the end of the day.”


In its typically outsized fashion (utilizing 800 drones) Walt Disney World puts on a production, Dreams That Soar, nightly over Lake Buena Vista.

“When Disney takes notice and implements things like that, it going to create the buzz that you need to make some real change,” says Rivera, “and that’s what we’re hoping to do, create change that will impact our environment in a positive way.”

The CMA drone is show is designed (and performed) by the Open Sky company of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Education remains a core element of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium mission, and guests at the Saturday event will have the opportunity to tour the rehabilitation facility, interact with the animals and learn about the Aquarium’s conservation and protection policies.

The ticketed event – it’s the third such show in as many years – also includes food and drink availabilities, live music, and the chance (for an upcharge) to experience the drone show from a boat on the bay.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium will soon open its Manatee Rehabilitation Center, the first step in its $32 million facility revitalization project.

“What drove me to Clearwater Marine Aquarium was the potential,” Rivera says. “So many great things are happening here, and I wanted to the part of that. I left a fantastic organization that was doing great things, and I think I fell into a place that’s doing equally as impressive work.

“And the opportunity to expand that reach is what really excites me.”

Tickets for Lights by the Bay are available at this link.















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