Aquarium Floats New Attendance Record In 2023

By Staff Reports, posted Feb 6, 2024
A volunteer helps students at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher touch pool. More than 20,000 students visited the aquarium in 2023. (Photo courtesy of NCAFF)

During 2023, half a million visitors came to the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher (NCAFF), according to a news release.

"The 502,123 visitors who came through the doors in 2023 included 20,515 students," the release stated. "The previous record for the calendar year was 483,985 visitors in 2017."

Hap Fatzinger, director of North Carolina Aquariums and former director of the Fort Fisher aquarium, stated in the release, "We look forward to welcoming even more visitors in 2024 and inspiring action to protect species."

The aquarium gift shop operated by the N.C. Aquarium Society surpassed $3 million in gross sales in 2023, an 11% increase over 2022, according to the release. A portion of the proceeds from this record-breaking number support conservation. In addition, the gift shop collected $33,111 in donations directly for the conservation work of the state's aquariums.

The 92,000-square-foot aquarium features 400,000 gallons of freshwater and saltwater habitats with a collection of 239 species and 4,150 animals, according to the release. The animals include Luna, the albino alligator; two Asian small-clawed otter families; Shelldon, the green sea turtle; two loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings; two sand tiger sharks; a bonnethead shark; and Maverick, the bald eagle.

“Because of the popularity of our animals, habitats and exhibits, anyone who wants to visit the aquarium should plan ahead and reserve their tickets online. Especially during the summer months, we have visitors who decide to stop by without tickets and find that we are sold out. We want the experience to be streamlined and special from beginning to end, so planning ahead can make all the difference,” said Joanna Zazzali, acting director and visitor services manager of NCAFF, in the release.

The Aquarium is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., only closing on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. Online reservations are required to visit the Aquarium. Visit NCAFF admissions for tickets.

The Fort Fisher aquarium and its sister facilities, the North Carolina aquariums at Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island, opened in 1976 as marine resources centers with a combined visitation of 341,000 in their first year of operation. Jennette’s Pier, the oldest fishing pier on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, rounded out the facilities in 2002.

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