Maritime Aquarium Turns 30 Years Old on Monday, Celebration on Saturday

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The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is readying to celebrate 30 years of living exhibits, marine science and environmental education in support of Long Island Sound, as well as its economic impact on Norwalk and Connecticut.

  • The Aquarium invites friends to celebrate its achievements on Saturday, July 21 with a full day of bonus offerings, entertainers and special guests, as well as “1988 throwback pricing” for deeply discounted admission all that weekend.
  • For the celebration on July 21, guests can enjoy fun bonus activities staggered throughout the day, including a disc jockey, strolling entertainers, and a photo booth with special backdrops. There will be cake and cupcakes, of course, as well as dignitaries with proclamations.
  • In addition, look for favorite IMAX movies from the past to be included in the film schedule on July 21. (One IMAX movie is included with Aquarium admission.)
  • Plus, in a nod to the boat-building shop that operated in the Aquarium from 1988-2007, former boatwright Chris Lawler will be on hand with a boat under construction, explaining the tools and steps for building a wooden boat.
  • All of the celebratory extras will be free with Aquarium admission, which is rolled back to the prices on July 16, 1988: just $9.50 for adults and seniors, and $5.50 for children 3-12.

The popular family attraction opened on July 16, 1988, as The Maritime Center at Norwalk. (The name was changed to The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk in July 1996.) It was created as a not-for-profit institution both to inspire stewardship for Long Island Sound and to spur a revitalization of the South Norwalk neighborhood.

— an announcement from the Maritime Aquarium

Today, based on traveler ratings on TripAdvisor.com, The Maritime Aquarium is the No. 1 aquarium in New England. It has the prestigious accreditation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the body that sets the top standards for animal care and visitor safety at zoos and aquariums.

Shark Tank Maritime Aquarium

Photo from the Maritime Aquarium

The Maritime Aquarium shark tank

Some 80,000 students in the Tristate Area connect with the aquarium and its educational programs each year. And annual attendance of nearly 500,000 means the aquarium has an annual economic impact of $25 million on the City of Norwalk and $42 million on the state of Connecticut through visitor spending and execution of its $12.3 million budget.

“We know that the Aquarium has been pivotal in the positive changes that have occurred with the health of Long Island Sound and in the vitality of South Norwalk over the last three decades,” said Dave Truedson, chief operating officer of The Maritime Aquarium.

Maritime Aquarium home school students 09-02-17

Photo from the Maritime Aquarium

The Maritime Aquarium is offers educational programs to homeschool students.

“But our work here is not done! Just as the Sound is a dynamic environment with new challenges, the Aquarium will remain fresh and dynamic in the exhibits we display, in the ways we present marine-science education, and in our roles in environmental research.”

As a motif for this milestone year, the Aquarium has adopted the traditional gift for a 30th anniversary: the pearl – only fitting for an aquarium in a community known for its oystering history. Even the seal in the familiar Aquarium logo is sporting a special pearl necklace.

Maritime Aquarium Readies for 30th (Pearl) Anniversary

Additionally, as part of the celebration summer, graphics have been added as markers through the Aquarium’s history, noting important events and when key exhibits opened. Similarly, movie posters for some of the Aquarium’s most-popular IMAX films are displayed with recollections of their significance.

Summer Camp Maritime Aquarium 6-8-16

Your child can spend time interacting with freakish forms of life (great preparation for college!). Photo from Maritime Aquarium

“Thirty years ago, this institution’s founders hoped that transforming an old abandoned ironworks factory into an aquarium might drive the revitalization of the South Norwalk
neighborhood,” Truedson said.

“At that same time, Long Island Sound was in need of help as well, with fishkills, overburdened waste-water treatment plants, and medical waste washing up on our shores.”

Much has changed since opening day in 1988, in the Sound, in the Aquarium and in the
surrounding neighborhood.

Within the Aquarium, over the last 30 years:

  • Maritime Aquarium

    Photo from The Maritime Aquarium

    animals added in permanent exhibits include sea turtles, river otters, meerkats, frogs, jellies and a snapping turtle named Franklin. (The Aquarium’s jellyfish-culturing program is so good now that it supplies jellies to other aquariums.) More than 3,000 animals of more than 300 species — with widely varying requirements for care — are now exhibited.

  • an empty adjacent building was incorporated into the Aquarium, providing 33,000-square-feet of additional space for a new main entrance, larger gift shop, larger cafeteria and new classrooms equipped for teaching marine science.
  • Spirit of the Sound Maritime Aquarium 6-5-16

    The Maritime Aquarium’s new research vessel “Spirit of the Sound”

    exhibits now give guests the chance to touch animals they have been taught all their lives to avoid: sharks and rays, as well as jellies. These exciting encounters occur under the supervision of the Aquarium’s 350 trained volunteers.

  • America’s first hybrid-electric research vessel continues the Aquarium’s eye-opening public educational programs on the Sound, while also now offering additional research opportunities at sea.
  • a “Go Fish!” exhibit informs guests about sustainable fisheries and inspires them to become smart seafood consumers.
  • nearly all single-use plastics have been eliminated from the Aquarium’s operations, as the institution practices what it preaches about environmental conservation.

Outside the building, the Aquarium today:

  • is a partner in a preschool in South Norwalk for 200 children, who are showing encouraging gains in their kindergarten readiness.
  • has five “Whole School Partnerships,” where the Aquarium’s educational programming is
    integrated into the curricula of the entire elementary school.
  • is across the street from a six-story, 755-space parking garage where originally a surface lot accommodated about 80 cars.
  • through its presence, has helped to attract more than $335 million in private investment to the area.
  • leads or participates in research and conservation on such topics as Long Island Sound water quality, sea turtles, horseshoe crab populations, inland frog populations, sand tiger shark reproduction and more.

“Certainly, with the opening of the SoNo Collection next year and the Walk Bridge
reconstruction starting next year, we and the neighborhood are in a period of change,” Truedson said.

“But The Maritime Aquarium is poised with the best staff, the best board, the best volunteers and the best community partners to respond in exciting, visionary ways.”

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