The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is located in Kure Beach, southeastern North Carolina. Opened in 1976 the aquarium was originally known as a Marine Science Center along with its two sister centers now known as N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Jennette's Pier in Nags Head also joined the aquariums later in 2011. The aim of the aquarium at Fort Fisher is to educate the public on the preservation and conservation of marine and aquatic life both throughout the world and locally in North Carolina. The aquarium is partnered with Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) and registered as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The aquarium itself has a range of fixed exhibits as well as seasonal exhibits which open during particular months of the year. Inside is a large amount of exhibit space displaying marine life and habitats, classrooms, a conference room, auditorium and outside an Adventure Reef play area. The aquarium is open all week and visitors should check for opening times. The aquarium offers discounted admission tickets for group bookings, disabled visitors, seniors and military personnel with children under two entering for free. Teachers and school groups can also enter admission free but are asked to pre register with the aquarium before the trip.

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The exhibits reveal the environments of the plant and animal life found in the Cape Fear River. They showcase the wildlife from coastline habitats, freshwater swamps and streams, oceans and reefs. The Cape Fear Conservatory exhibit holds freshwater life and is housed in an atrium. Box turtles hide amongst the plant life on the ground and snakes, bass and catfish are amongst the other animals that can be found. Also located in the Conservatory is a large exhibit with native alligators to North Carolina.

The Bamboo Shark Touch Pool exhibit gives visitors the chance to observe and touch lesser known sea life as well as a loggerhead sea turtle display and an albino alligator exhibit dedicated to rarely seen species. The Coastal Waters Gallery sees a special tank known as the Coquina Outcrop Touch Pool where visitors can safely watch the sea animals inside and touch them as they breach the water on the top. Within the Touch Pool are sea urchins, whelks, horseshoe crabs and stingrays.

The Open Oceans Gallery is an exhibit which shows native octopus, live corals, vibrant jellyfish and other animals often found offshore in North Carolina adding an interesting insight into local species found in state. The saltwater Cape Fear Shoals Exhibit is designed in a two story reef style viewing tank with eels, groupers, sharks and stingrays within view. The exhibit is large and is often filled with visitors around the edge of the glass.

The Exotic Aquatics Display shows animals mostly from Indo Pacific regions though some are local. Visitors can view scorpionfish, lionfish, Australian spotted jellies, the red lionfish and spiny lobsters. Another more tropical exhibit is the The Pacific Reef Display which houses a colorful array of fish species such as clownfish, surgeonfish and hawkfish among others. The display has a large collection of live brightly coloured coral in it to match the real life habitat the animals have adapted to. Inside is also a giant clam.

Visitors can also see the Venomous Snakes Exhibit which contains poisonous snakes found in the local region such as cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes. The exhibit has a glass bay with bark and plants for the to use. Another non aquatic exhibit is the Megalodon Exhibit shows interactive displays of a prehistoric shark with holograms, touch screen interfaces and a 23ft convex screen in a state of the art multimedia suite.

Ongoing programs and education

The aquarium offers a range of tours which vary on topic but can involve management and care of the sea life, feeding and fishing. The tours on offer are the Behind the Scenes Tour available for ages 8 upwards and the Fins and Family Tour for children aged 3 years to 7 years with family members. Other programs are Salt Marshes and Crabbing open to visitors over 7 years, Surf Fishing with an instructor for visitors of 10 years onwards, Canoeing for those who are 8 years and older and the Aquarist Apprentice for those 10 years and older.

School groups can also accessorise their field trip to the aquarium with outdoor activities and adventures, taking part in a live animal program, a tour or classroom activities. The aquarium also offers downloadable curriculums for teachers and for students, internships, job shadowing roles and teen volunteer opportunities.

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900 I Rd, Kure Beach, NC 28449, Phone: 910-772-0500

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