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The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
MaritimeAquariumNorwalkpx.jpg
Date opened July 16, 1988
Location Norwalk, Connecticut, CT
Land area 140,000 sq. ft.
Coordinates 41°06′04″N 73°24′59″W / 41.101°N 73.4164°W / 41.101; -73.4164 (Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk)Coordinates: 41°06′04″N 73°24′59″W / 41.101°N 73.4164°W / 41.101; -73.4164 (Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk)
Number of animals 2,700
Number of species 300
Annual visitors 500,000

The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk (formerly Maritime Center) is an aquarium located in the South Norwalk (or "SoNo") section of Norwalk, Connecticut.

The aquarium features harbor seals, river otters, sharks, jellyfish, loggerhead turtles, and hundreds of other animals living in re-creations of their natural Long Island Sound habitats. Three touch tanks feature stingrays, nurse sharks, crabs, sea stars, moon jellies 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 features a 10,000-watt, digital, proprietary, surround-sound system.

In addition to its exhibits, The Maritime Aquarium offers educational programs, year-round cruises on its 64-foot research vessel R/V Spirit of the Sound, special events and camps.

Mission

The Maritime Aquarium inspires people of all ages to appreciate and protect the Long Island Sound ecosystem and the global environment through living exhibits, marine science, and environmental education.

Attendance

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 statewide 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, other events such as weddings, and donations. The state gave it a grant of $675,000 to promote tourism in 2007.

History

The "Maritime Center" opened July 16, 1988. The name was changed to the "Maritime Aquarium" in July 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.

Exhibits

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 2,700 animals, representing in excess of 300 species.

As of 2019, exhibits include "Just Add Water," "Journey with Jellies," "Harbor Seals," "River Otters," "Shark and Ray Touch Pool," "Ocean Beyond the Sound," Sea Turtles," and "Jiggle-a-Jelly."

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