NORWALK, Conn. – For 25 years, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk has delighted children and adults of all ages. On Tuesday, the attraction began its next 25-year journey.
To celebrate the milestone, the aquarium held a ceremony Tuesday afternoon that included a host of local officials and brought Gov. Dannel Malloy down from Hartford, who praised the aquarium for its positive impact on the region and the state.
“To imagine the level of success the aquarium has seen over 25 years is incredible,” said Malloy, adding that it is the No. 1 attraction in Connecticut within 100 miles of New York City.
The aquarium has become one of the linchpins of the state’s leisure and hospitality industry, the fastest growing industry in Connecticut, Malloy said. The industry employs 6.5 percent of the state’s workers.
“Last year, the Maritime Aquarium attracted more than 460,000 visitors, and spearheaded $40 million in economic activity in Norwalk,” said Malloy. “About 30 percent of those visitors were from out of state, and we like getting their dollars.”
Jennifer Herring, president of the aquarium, said its success can be traced back to the community, which embraced it from the beginning.
“People feel a tremendous amount of pride when they talk about or visit the aquarium,” said Herring.
Just over a year ago, the aquarium completed a total renovation, costing about $4.5 million, which “renewed the institution from top to bottom,” she said. This summer has been a success so far with the Lorikeets exhibit, and in the coming months, the center will christen a new educational boat, among other initiatives.
“We’re doubling down on our commitment to education,” said Herring. Over the past 25 years, the aquarium has helped raise awareness of cleanup efforts in Long Island Sound, which have improved the water quality. “We’re not only expanding educational efforts to elementary students, but also to teens and teachers.”
Those efforts are already paying off this summer as throngs of young students Tuesday ran from exhibit to exhibit, petting live stingrays and sharks and watching seals swim in their tank.
“I remember when they first started, and they were hoping to attract 50,000 visitors that first year,” said Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia. “The plans were so modest compared to where they are now. It’s truly a wonderful place and jewel for the city and the state.”