The Maritime Aquarium inspires people of all ages to appreciate Long Island Sound and protect it for future generations. A vibrant and entertaining learning environment, the Maritime Aquarium achieves this goal through living exhibits, marine science, and environmental education.
A Brief History of The Maritime Aquarium
In the mid-1970s, the city of Norwalk under the direction of then-Mayor William Collins undertook the South Norwalk Revitalization Project. The goal of this program was to preserve the historic architecture of South Norwalk, affectionately dubbed SoNo, and revitalize the neighborhood. The Washington Street National Historic District was established, and 32 buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
However, it would take more than old buildings to turn SoNo around. Plans were drawn for a major attraction that would bring people and tourism dollars into SoNo. The City of Norwalk and its Redevelopment Agency, along with The Oceanic Society, the Norwalk Seaport Association, and the Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk made a major commitment to developing the new maritime center, complete with an aquarium featuring live animals from Long Island Sound, an IMAX theatre with an eight stories wide and six stories high screen, and a boat collection.
In 1986, ground-breaking ceremonies took place on the site of a former 1860s iron works factory, an abandoned brick building on the SoNo waterfront. What was then called The Maritime Center at Norwalk opened on July 16, 1988.
In July 1996, The Maritime Center at Norwalk changed its name to The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk to better identify itself to the public and underscore the increasing importance of the live animal exhibits.
According to a March 2003 Economic Impact Study, the Aquarium's annual economic impact on Norwalk is $20.3 million. Statewide, the Aquarium's economic impact is $41.8 million. (The dollar figures include visitor spending, jobs in the Aquarium, jobs created outside the Aquarium by its tourist trade, taxes paid by visitors and employees, and other spending.) And as the Aquarium grows, so does our positive impact on the community.
The Maritime Aquarium has been at the center of a major turnaround in South Norwalk. SoNo now bustles by day with unique shops, boutiques, coffee shops, and delis, and by night with nightclubs, acclaimed restaurants, and cinemas.
Annual attendance now averages over 500,000 visitors, making it one of the largest attractions in Connecticut (and the largest in Connecticut within 100 miles of New York City). Among the Aquarium's visitors are more than 150,000 schoolchildren on field trips, many of whom participate in marine-science programs offered by an active Education Department.
To support the growing number of visitors and educational programs, The Maritime Aquarium completed its first major expansion project. Opened in April 2001, the new $9.5 million Environmental Education Center (funded through corporate, private, and state contributions) boasts new classrooms and high-tech educational equipment, plus a new main entrance, larger gift shop and 180-seat food-service area. The move from the old gift shop also allowed for the addition of loggerhead sea turtles to the Aquarium's growing animal collection.
In 2005 The Maritime Aquarium adopted a new mission statement which rededicated the Aquarium to inspiring its visitors to preserve and protect Long Island Sound and its inhabitants. To that end, the Aquarum is currently engaged in an extensive master planning process which will lead to expansion in its exhibits and programs and an even sharper focus on the conservation of Long Island Sound and all the world's oceans.