Who We Are

Who We Are



The Florida Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to entertain, educate and inspire stewardship of the natural environment.

Protect and Restore our Blue Planet.




2019 Annual Report      2016 annual report


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 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 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 a 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 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. 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 and visitors to the Tampa Bay area and brought a positive economic impact of $60-million to the community in its first year of operation.

The Florida Aquarium was accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) in March 1997.

The “No BoneZone” touch-pool exhibit opened in Summer 2000; The “Sea Hunt” habitat opened Summer 2001. The DolphinQuest ecotour boat, “Bay Spirit” was christened March 27, 2001

In 2003, the Aquarium began 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 included 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. 

In the Fall of 2005, Coastal Living Magazine ranked 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. 

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. 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 eco-tour boat, Bay Spirit II, used for private events and daily Wild Dolphin Cruises, holding 130 passengers. 

In December 2010, The Florida Aquarium educated its one-millionth child!

In April of 2011, the Aquarium added large sand tiger sharks to the signature habitat, Coral Reef, and moved “Dive with the Sharks” to the main tank with these spectacular new sharks.

July 2011, The Florida Aquarium announced it's 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 announced plans for a brand new Florida conservation and technology park. 

October 2012, the Rising Tides Capital Campaign held 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 held an official groundbreaking ceremony for their new project.

February 24, 2014, The Florida Aquarium started 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 celebrated the Opening of the Carol and Barney Barnett Learning Center. 

November 5, 2014, The Florida Aquarium launches the Shark Swim allowing guests to immerse themselves 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. 

May 2017, the Aquarium opened the Mosaic Center, funded by The Mosaic company. 

June 2017, the Aquarium opened its newly renovated Splash Pad! 

October 2017, the Aquarium opened the 4-D Theater.

October 2018, the Aquarium opened the 100,000-gallon Heart of the Sea, its second largest exhibit that features the Aquarium's three conservation priorities which includes sea turtles, sharks and coral.

January 2019, The Florida Aquarium opened the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center in Apollo Beach, strengthening its committment and abilities to save endangered species in Florida and across the country.

June 8, 2019, the Aquarium premiered Moon Bay, a fourth of its kind in the U.S., moon jelly touch experience located in the first floor lobby.

August 2019, the Aquarium became the first organization in history to induce spawning of an Atlantic Species of Coral.  

February 2020, the Aquarium brings Washed Ashore - Art to Save the Sea to it's guests.