Improvements to the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island offer new exhibits about the Outer Banks and its undersea world.
Imagine. Dream. Love. Fish. Immerse. Listen. Swim.
When you enter the newly renovated N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island, these words and others are one of the first things you will see. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing some personal space with sharks and other creatures in the lobby, courtesy of an new augmented-realty feature.
As you continue, you will quickly find yourself treated to a peek under the water’s surface as you wander through a replica shipwreck, watch jellyfish tranquilly drift about and get glimpse of the animals that call the waters of the Albemarle Sound home.
Here, in this new and improved aquarium, you will also be invited to step back in time to learn about a local ghost town called Buffalo City and hear about the fate of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor.
That’s not even touching upon the long-standing exhibits, such as the popular Graveyard of the Atlantic tank, the Wild Wetlands, Sea Senses touch pool and Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue (STAR) Center.
The STAR Center is a 3,000-square-foot facility was constructed in 2014 and includes an interactive sea turtle hospital called “Operation: Sea Turtle Rescue” as well as a new and improved rehabilitation and treatment center for injured and sick sea turtles.
The most recent renovations, however, began in November of last year and closed the aquarium from January until it partially opened again on June 11.
With new interactive exhibits, you can venture through the aquarium and use all of your five senses to explore the region’s unique marine environment, culture and history. And no matter how many times you may have visited this aquarium in the past, a new experience awaits after more than $6.5 million in private and public funding has been pumped into the facility.
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held August 10 to celebrate the new renovations, and while a few exhibits were only partially complete, there is plenty to see at this Outer Banks attraction that hasn’t seen a major renovation since the opening of the Graveyard of the Atlantic shark tank in 2000.
State leaders, including Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz and Governor Pat McCrory, praised aquarium staff and the N.C. Aquarium Society for their dedication to the project. The society contributed $5.5 million of the $6.5 million price tag of the upgrade.
“It’s unbelievable what has been done here,” Kluttz told a crowd gathered in the lobby for the ribbon cutting. She said the opening was especially fitting this year, which is the 40th anniversary of the aquarium system. The Roanoke Island aquarium has nearly 300,000 visitors every year and is one of three in the state. A second is located at Fort Fisher and a third is at Pine Knoll Shores; additionally, Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head is part of the aquarium family
While nearly every area of the facility saw some improvements and upgrades, four new exhibits have been added to the aquarium’s list of attractions. The new exhibits are interspersed with the well-established ones, giving visitors a mix of new excitement while still seeing longtime aquarium friends like river otters, yellow-bellied sliders and alligators.
The journey begins with an augmented-reality experience as you enter the aquarium to a wide-screen above.
The Seven Rivers exhibit takes guests inland as it explores the animals and cultural history tied to waters of the Albemarle region. Visitors will learn about the history of the deserted Buffalo City and come face to face with some of the slithering snakes and amphibians that call the area home.
The Sea Treasures exhibit takes visitors through an old shipwreck while viewing the marine life that can be found around many of the wrecks off the coast of the Outer Banks. Interactive kiosks allow guests to not only watch marine creatures such as the green moray and red lionfish but also learn about their habitat, diet and more with a touch of the screen.
At the Ironclad Sanctuary, visitors enter through a turret replica of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor to watch a movie and participate in interactive exhibits about this famous warship, the first of its kind commissioned by the U.S. Navy.
When visitors are ready to relax to soothing music and floating sea jellies, it’s time for a visit to the ethereal Delicate Drifters exhibit featuring various species of sea jellies as they drift in their cylinder tanks under the calm and peaceful lighting.
And don’t forget to stomp around a bit while at the Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit. Children and adults alike will delight in making a splash on an interactive splash pad on the floor where you can learn more about what lurks under the sea by stomping and splashing about.
Outside, you can explore The Lost Woods, a nature trail and natural space.
The only rules in The Lost Woods, according to the kiosk is “to look up, look down and all the way around” and “touch everything.” There are opportunities to become an artist, make music, test your balance at the root challenge or take a rest in the shade of a fort.
The soundside pavilion, sculpture pond, fossil hunt and Etheridge Cemetery are also popular exhibits that are located on the aquarium’s grounds.
Want to go?
N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island
HOURS: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
PRICE: $12.95 adults; $11.95 seniors and military; $10.95 children ages 3 to 12; free for children ages 2 and younger. A 25 percent discount is in place until all animals are on display in the new exhibits.
LOCATION: 374 Airport Rd., Manteo
INFO: 252-475-2300 ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island