Monday, May 15, 2000

Newport Aquarium to grow

Plans aim to teach, delight

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Diver Kay Kinsey feeds fish in the Amazon rain forest exhibit.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        NEWPORT — The Newport Aquarium is one year old today, but the Ohio River attraction is growing well beyond the toddler stage. Aquarium officials say visitors can expect significant changes at the facility, which exceeded attendance projections by welcoming 1.24 million visitors in its first 12 months.

        Cincinnati attorney Tom Heekin, one of the partners who own the aquarium, said education remains a top priority. “We're so proud of our numbers and the success of the aquarium,” Mr. Heekin said.

        “It's nice to have been right when there were those who thought we were making a mistake. And we continue to be grateful to the state of Kentucky for all its help,” he said.

  • 1.24 million visitors.
  • 55,000 members.
  • 300 volunteers putting in 9,200 hours.
  • 1 million gallons of water evaporated and replaced.
  • Nearly 1 ton of fish eaten by the five sandbar and two sand tiger sharks.
  • Nearly 250,000 pieces of fish eaten by the 16 King penguins.
  • 200,000 water tests conducted on 60 exhibits — 55 tests daily.
        Among the changes in store:

        • A Hawaiian display with fish from the Pacific Ocean;

        • Internet display of some of the aquarium's tanks;

        • A China river exhibit;

        • An aquatic education center and nature preserve along the Licking River;

        • A nonprofit education and research foundation. “Increasing the educational aspects are as important to me and the other partners as having a successful aquarium,” Mr. Heekin said. “It's a waste of the facility if you don't use it to teach.”

        Aquarium Vice President and General Manager John Tighe discussed the changes as he toured the facility recently, competing with throngs of school children.

        “We had some 114,000 kids through here as part of our education program,” Mr. Tighe said.

        “We've now exposed that number of people to the ocean and its creatures, and the need for conservation to improve the aquatic environment. Most of those people would never see these animals any other way.”

        Juan Sabalones, the aquarium's director of husbandry, said that the wave tank and an adjoining tank near the Pirate Theater will soon become a Hawaiian display. Fish from Pacific waters near Hawaii are already in quarantine at the aquarium.

        The turtle island exhibit, the first attraction visitors see at the bottom of the escalator, will soon become a China river exhibit, while the turtles will move to the Riverbank exhibit.

        “No exhibit is really stable,” he said. “They are all works in progress, as we continue to add and change animals and find new ways to display them for the public.”

        Mr. Heekin said the aquarium is interested in teaching about conservation in fresh water as well as the ocean.

        The aquarium is working with Northern Kentucky University and a property owner in southern Campbell County to develop an education center and nature preserve on property along the Licking River near Visalia. The effort would preserve wetlands near the river.

        “It's always nice to have relevancy to local issues,” Mr. Sabalones said. “And we also plan to establish a program at the aquarium to talk more about our local rivers and efforts to improve water quality and conservation of aquatic life.”

        Mr. Heekin added that the aquarium's education program will change dramatically in the coming months. It will develop new outreach efforts at area schools, while generating materials to better enable students at all levels to learn about the ocean and the aquatic environment.

        “We have developed a nonprofit independent educational and research foundation that will enable us to accomplish the educational goals we planned from the outset,” he said.

        “We want to develop Internet access into the tanks, where students can see the tanks from a classroom, and also have e-mail correspondence with the aquatic staff at the aquarium.”


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