The Florida Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to entertain, educate and inspire stewardship about our natural environment.
Protect and Restore our Blue Planet.
The Florida Aquarium began as the Clearwater Marine Science Center (CMSC), a private non-profit educational organization located on Clearwater Beach, Florida incorporated in 1977.
In late 1985, consultants from New England, National and Monterey Bay aquariums advised the CMSC Board on expansion potential. The consulting team emphasized the need for a world-class facility if the project was to compete successfully as a nationally recognized educational facility in the Florida marketplace, and thus, become financially viable.
The Florida Aquarium, Inc. was incorporated on December 12, 1986 as a separate not-for-profit organization. The newly organized Florida Aquarium Board of Directors formally committed to building a public aquarium comparable to the finest in the nation, and contracted Joseph A. Wetzel Associates of Boston to provide conceptual design of exhibits for a new facility.
Briefings with local and state officials were conducted and broad-based support for the project was garnered from the local Clearwater Chamber of Commerce to then Governor Bob Graham.
Garrison Seaport Center emerged as a major redevelopment of downtown Tampa’s waterfront. On August 15, 1992, The Tampa City Council voted to accept the financing package and site work began within the next few months for the new Aquarium. During the next three years of construction, educational outreach programs were held throughout the community to create awareness for the project.
On March 31, 1995, The Florida Aquarium opened its doors, serving one million residents of and visitors to the Tampa Bay area and bringing a positive economic impact of $60-million to the community in its first year of operation.
“No BoneZone” touch-tank exhibit of invertebrates opened in Summer 2000; “Sea Hunt” exhibit opened Summer 2001 which renovated existing pathways. The DolphinQuest ecotour boat, “Bay Spirit” was christened March 27, 2001 and allowed visitors to learn about the bay waters of Florida.
In 2003, the Aquarium’s most exciting new program began allowing visitors to swim in the shark tank in the “Dive with the Sharks” program. Renovations for 2003 included a $1.3 million project, “Explore A Shore.” This outdoor children’s water adventure area includes animal play sets and water splash areas.
In March 2004, Explore A Shore, the children’s outdoor water fun zone opened including the Caribbean Cantina with a sit-down full service bar and grill.
In the Fall of 2005, Coastal Living Magazine ranks The Florida Aquarium in the “top-10 aquariums in North America.”
In 2006, African Black-footed penguins waddled their way to the Aquarium and instantly became a guest favorite. Daily Penguin Promenades delight guests as the penguins waddle on a red carpet directly in front of guests in a unique “no barriers, no borders” experience.
In the Fall of 2007, Parents Magazine ranks The Florida Aquarium in the “top 5 kid-friendly aquariums in the country.”
Summer 2008, Penguin Promenade: Backstage Pass begins – a behind the scenes experience with a half-dozen penguins. TripAdvisor.com ranks The Florida Aquarium in the “Top 10 Aquariums in the Country”.
October 18, 2008, Ocean Commotion, a $1-million renovation to the Sea Hunt Gallery opens to the public. The this high tech gallery features animated characters presenting conservation messages in a fun storyline based on the Golden Gill Awards.
In 2010, the Aquarium christens its new ecotour boat, Bay Spirit II, used for private events and daily Wild Dolphin Cruises. The new boat holds 130 passengers and is a double-decker powered catamaran.
In December 2010, The Florida Aquarium educated its one-millionth child!
In April of 2011, the Aquarium adds large sand tiger sharks to the signature exhibit, Coral Reef, and moves “Dive with the Sharks” to the main tank with these spectacular new sharks.
July 2011, The Florida Aquarium announces The Florida Aquarium Announces Its Largest Single Gift, $2.5-Million from The Mosaic Company, to Launch $15-Million Rising Tides Capital Campaign.
September 2012, The Florida Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Tampa Electric Create a Landmark Partnership and announce plans for a brand new Florida conservation and technology park
October 2012, the Rising Tides Capital Campaign holds their official groundbreaking ceremony for the first phase of the campaign
January 2013, The Florida Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Tampa Electric Create Hold Official Groundbreaking Ceremony for their new project.
February 24, 2014,The Florida Aquarium Starts Construction on the Carol and Barney Barnett Learning Center kicking off phase II of their Rising Tides Capital Campaign
March 1, 2014,Journey to Madagascar Exhibit opens
October 8, 2014,The Florida Aquarium celebrates the Opening of the Carol and Barney Barnett Learning Center
November 5, 2014,The Florida Aquarium launches Shark Swim that allows guests to become immersed in the Coral Reef Gallery
January 20, 2015, The Florida Aquarium, Florida Department of State and the South Eastern Archeological Preserve held a unique dedication ceremony for the USS Narcissus Civil War Ship honoring it as 12th State Underwater Archeological Preserve.
The Florida Aquarium was first accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) in March 1997.