They say anything can happen at theme parks, but when they say that they unusually mean that any attraction might close to be replaced by something better. They don’t usually mean a massive sinkhole might open up to be filled with millions of gallons of wastewater. And yet, here we are.
This week The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that on November 18 Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay reported a massive sinkhole, measuring 15 feet wide and 15 feet deep, opened up underneath a retention pond on the property, which was designed for wastewater treatment. This caused the water in the retention pond, approximately 2.5 million gallons of wastewater, to drain into the ground.
The hole opened up under the third in a set of three different ponds designed for water treatment. By the time the water reaches that pond, it has already had biological material and nutrients removed. The third pond holds water as it is run through an ultraviolet filter system. The pond reportedly contained runoff from hosing down the park, including animal habitats, but did not include any human waste. Water sampling is being done in order to ascertain the extent of the damage done.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the retention pond location was in a backstage area of the park, near the Congo River Rapids attraction. Needless to say, this is absolutely wild to read. It’s not what you expect to hear happening at a theme park. Usually, when nature does damage at a theme park, especially in Florida, it's in the form of weather. We've seen recent storms damage attractions at Universal Orlando and hurricanes cause closures at Disney World.
Of course, random accidents and acts of nature happen at theme parks all the time. Recently a lamppost fell over at Disneyland, injuring three, an accident that occurred due to unusually high winds in Southern California. While the Busch Gardens incident is certainly larger in scale and potential severity, it’s ultimately caused by the same thing, the randomness of nature.
Busch Gardens is often overlooked when it comes to the Florida theme park or amusement park scene, but the Tampa location is home to Iron Gwazi, generally regarded as one of the best roller coasters in the world. Busch Gardens is owned by SeaWorld Entertainment.
It’s unclear what the long-term ramifications of this sinkhole will be, if any. Certainly, millions of gallons of wastewater in the ground is not ideal, but I’m not sure what exactly one does after it has already happened. Busch Gardens notified the state environmental protection department, making them aware of the incident, there would likely have been significant fines if that had not been done. And this way the incident can be monitored. If there are repercussions for groundwater in the area, steps can likely be taken to mitigate that.
Busch Gardens could still face punishment if it found they violated any environmental rules. In addition, the repairing of the sinkhole will require its own environmental review.