Sunday, June 23, 2024

Fort Fisher aquarium breaks visitor record

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher saw more than 500,000 visitors in the last year. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

KURE BEACH — The aquarium in Kure Beach, part of the state’s system, welcomed more than half-a-million visitors in its 2022-2023 fiscal year, breaking a new visitation record.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher — along with sister facilities at Pine Knoll Shore and Roanoke — opened in 1976 as a marine resource center with a combined visitation of 341,000 in the first year of operation.

Jeanette’s Pier, the oldest fishing pier in the state, was added to the system in 2002. The four locations are among 100 under state management with the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The 92,000-square-foot Fort Fisher aquarium features 400,000 gallons of freshwater and saltwater habitats with a collection of 240 species and 3,893 animals. Some of the animals create an “instant connection” — Luna, the albino alligator, two Asian small-clawed otter families, Shelldon, the green sea turtle, two loggerhead hatchling sea turtles, two sand tiger sharks, a bonnethead shark and Maverick the bald eagle.

“All of them endearing and most of them facing extinction,” a press release states.

“With so much at stake, sharing the story of these species takes on greater importance,” NCAHH communications manager Deyanira Romo Rossell said in the release. “A trip through the Aquarium is truly an immersive experience sparking solidarity with our mission in so many visitors and we hope it has a ripple effect.”

NCAFF director Hap Fatzinger said staff is “jubilant” over the record number of visitors.

“We are passionate about creating an exceptional experience for everyone who walks through our doors and committed to inspiring individual action to protect the many fascinating animals at the Aquarium,” he said in a release.

The NCAFF is open seven days per week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. only closing on Christmas and Thanksgiving days. Advanced tickets are required to visit.

“Because of the popularity of our animals, habitats and exhibits, anyone who wants to visit the Aquarium should plan ahead,” visitor services manager Joanna Zazzali said in the release. “Especially during the summer months, we have visitors who decide to stop by without tickets and find that we are sold out. We want the experience to be streamlined and special from the beginning to end, so planning ahead can make all the difference.”

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