Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
|Date opened||July 16, 1988|
|Location||Norwalk, Connecticut, CTCoordinates:|
|Land area||140,000 sq. ft.|
|Number of animals||2,000|
|Number of species||300|
|Public transit access||South Norwalk|
The aquarium has harbor seals, river otters, sharks, jellyfish, loggerhead turtles, and hundreds of other animals living in re-creations of their natural Long Island Sound habitats. Two touch tanks feature smooth stingrays, nurse sharks, crabs, sea stars, and other coastal creatures.
The aquarium also has an IMAX Theater with a screen six stories tall and the equivalent of eight stories wide. It was opened in October 2007 to show regular feature-length movies on weekend evenings. Part of the upgrade was the installation of a 10,000-watt, digital, proprietary, surround-sound system. The aquarium features educational programs, year-round study cruises on its 40-foot (12 m) trawler, Research Vessel Oceanic, special exhibits, and fun 3-D simulator/adventure rides.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is one of Connecticut's top tourist attractions. Annual attendance averages 500,000 visitors, about 100,000 of whom are from New York state. The Maritime Aquarium's estimated state-wide economic impact is almost $42 million; it contributes approximately $25 million to Norwalk's economy every year.
The aquarium's budget for the 2006-2007 fiscal year was about $10.7 million. More than $4 million came in from admissions, with 36 percent coming from out-of-state visitors. Demonstrating increasing regional appeal, out-of-state attendance revenue has increased 55% since 2002.
Additional revenues are generated from educational programming fees, the gift shop, catering, business dinners, and other events and donations. The state gave it a grant of $675,000 to promote tourism.
The "Maritime Center" opened July 16, 1988. The name was changed to the "Maritime Aquarium" in 1996 to emphasize the live animals featured there.
It first opened by renovating a former 1860s iron works factory and building the IMAX Theater. Visitors, as they walk past the Ray Touch Pool toward the Marine Lab, still tread on the original wood floors under original wood beams of the iron works. Occupying approximately 100,000 gross square feet, the first animal exhibits included Harbor Seals, Open Ocean and Touch Tank.
The cultural section of the aquarium originally explored boat building and human exploration of the sea, but the boat-building activities were eliminated in early 2007. In the last seven years of its 19-year run, the boat-building program constructed about 500 boats, and 20,000 children took part in classes that created more than 5,000 model boats, but aquarium officials said the shop only served 3 to 5 percent of patrons.
The boat-building shop was replaced with a new Marine Lab with baby seahorses, jellyfish, and other new animals, as well as information on aquaculture, sustainable seafood, and responsible home aquarium keeping.
- 1991: Exhibit space is expanded by adding the 7,000-square-foot (650 m2) "Featured Exhibits" area, a semi-permanent fabric and steel structure. The first exhibit is Real Sea Monsters, featuring extinct sea creatures like Kronosaurus and Carcharadon.
- 1994: Outdoor exhibit space, including bleachers, is added along the Norwalk River for summertime exhibits and shows. It opens with a Birds of Prey show.
- 1995: Jellyfish Encounter opens. Aquarium curators solve significant challenges to display these delicate animals that are approximately 95 percent water.
- 1996: "The Maritime Center" changes its name to "the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk" to better identify itself to the public and underscore increasing importance of live animal exhibits. River Otters and Ray Touch Pool open.
- 2001: The aquarium expands into the Hatch and Bailey factory building, converting and rehabilitating 33,000 square feet (3,100 m2) of space into a new $9.5 million Environmental Education Center (funded through corporate, private and state contributions). New space allows a reconfiguring of the existing aquarium:
- Giant Sea Turtles opens, including a 15,000-gallon habitat, interpretive signs, and turtle shell photo opportunity.
- A new main entrance improves visitor reception and admission.
- New Oyster Hall group orientation space and lunchroom open just off the main entrance, which allow for staging and organizing busloads of visiting students.
- New high-tech classrooms with multimedia and wet lab facilities are added, as are teachers' rooms, to expand the Maritime Aquarium's educational programs.
- Cascade Cafe opens with seating for 180 people.
- Gift shop moves and expands.
- 2006: Touch Tank is moved and greatly enhanced to create a more natural display, allow animals to live "on-site" and offer better access to visitors. The aquarium's volunteer staff funds reconstruction.
- 2007: Frogs! opens, a new permanent exhibit displaying amphibians from Long Island Sound shores and watershed, as well as other exotics from around the world, to draw attention to the importance of amphibians as bellwether species for environmental change. The small boat building shop is closed.
- 2008: During the summer the Great White Alligator is displayed in the outdoor exhibit space.
- 2009: African Penguins temporary outdoor exhibit opens.
- 2010: Temporary Meerkat Exhibit opens.
- 2012: FINtastic RefurbFISHment is unveiled with new sea life and hands-on-exhibits. The white alligator also returned to the aquarium for the summer.
In recent years, the Maritime Aquarium has emphasized helping visitors understand the ecology of Long Island Sound and its watershed. The aquarium participates in and directs local scientific research on Long Island Sound's animal residents, including a counting and tagging program for horseshoe crabs and annual counts of harbor seals. The Maritime Aquarium also helped create a Long Island Sound Biodiversity Database, which is open to the public.
In 2006, the aquarium became a partner in SeafoodWatch, a program that encourages consumers to make responsible seafood choices that have a low impact on the environment and promote sustainable fisheries.
The Maritime Aquarium is approximately 140,000 square feet (13,000 m2) and has more than 177,000 gallons of water in its live animal exhibits. On exhibit are more than 2,000 marine animals and reptiles, representing in excess of 300 species. Its 93 exhibit tanks range in size from 10 to 110,000 gallons. There are two exhibit pools: seals and ray touch. Off-exhibit are more than 30 additional tanks and a small pool.
The aquarium has a display of detailed ship models with 14 in cases, as well as charts and interpretive signs. In the ship model area and throughout the Cascade Cafe are signs describing the nautical origins of many popular sayings, for example, "bitter end," "scuttlebutt," "let the cat out of the bag," "under the weather," and "three squares a day."
- New York Aquarium, on Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, is the closest aquarium to the Maritime Aquarium.
- Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration is the only other aquarium in Connecticut and the only other aquarium on Long Island Sound.
- Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead, New York is a privately owned aquarium on the Peconic River at the eastern end of Long Island.
- "About Us". The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-12.
- Stelloh, Tom, "Norwalk aquarium admissions slumping: Officials blame warm October, November", news article in The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut, Norwalk edition, February 24, 2007, page A3
- DeLoma, Jamie, "Setting sale: Aquarium to auction the last handmade boats from its shop", news article in The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut, Norwalk Edition, April 27, 2007
- Weizel, Richard. "Norwalk Aquarium's New Look Draws Big Crowds". The Norwalk Daily Voice. Retrieved 13 July 2012.