Twenty years ago this month, the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit at the St. Lucie County Aquarium (then called the St. Lucie County Marine Center) opened to the public with several large dynamic aquarium displays of local marine habitats, a classroom space and a gift shop.
Just in time for its 20th anniversary, the Aquarium is adding brand-new custom-designed permanent educational signage for the exhibit areas and the exterior. To celebrate 20 years as a part of the Treasure Coast community, the Aquarium is offering free admission on Saturday, August 28, 2021 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Visitors can meet the Aquarium’s staff and learn how they care for the intricate living ecosystems as well as the ever-popular guided fish feeding tours at 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM led by a Smithsonian educator.
When it first opened its doors two decades ago, the building’s stunning centerpiece, a 2,500-gallon living Atlantic Caribbean coral reef that had been on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. since 1980, was transported piece by piece to its new home in Fort Pierce. While St. Lucie County provided most of the funding for this project, it would not have happened without additional support from the City of Fort Pierce, Indian River State College and St. Lucie County Public Schools, along with several corporate sponsors including Fort Pierce Utilities Authority and Florida Power and Light.
There have been many improvements made at the Aquarium since it first opened on August 28, 2001. The bare white walls have been replaced with colorful dioramas, murals and maps of Indian River Lagoon and Florida’s Atlantic coast. The interpretive signage has been continually enhanced and updated in order to give visitors a more colorful, in-depth and engaging understanding of the Aquarium’s model ecosystem exhibits. More recently, digital components have been added, including interpretive exhibit videos accessible through QR codes at each exhibit. Over the years, new exhibits like the installation of a touch tank for visitors to interact with live animals, a vividly-colored live Pacific reef exhibit that highlights the importance of aquaculture as well as numerous microscope displays, give visitors the opportunity to view and learn about the ocean’s smallest denizens. Rotating exhibits and a constantly changing roster of live marine animals have kept the Aquarium fresh, relevant and offer repeat visitors a new experience each time they visit.
Visitors are encouraged to learn about the small, sometimes overlooked, living organisms that allow ecosystems to thrive; an oft-repeated phrase at the Aquarium is “…the closer you look, the more you’ll see.” But the exhibit areas aren’t the only things that have changed in the last 20 years. Public programming and education continues to evolve and expand at the Aquarium with the introduction of virtual field trips and digital programs for students in the past year, and grant-funded outreach programs to Title 1 schools in recent years. The Aquarium is looking forward to a new grant-funded educational program series currently being developed in collaboration with the Girl Scouts of Southeast Florida to explore topics like biodiversity, water quality and eDNA in the Indian River Lagoon, continuing to carry forward SMEE staff’s passion for inspiring the next generation of scientists and informed citizens.
Located at 420 Seaway Drive on South Hutchinson Island, the St. Lucie County Aquarium is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM and Sunday from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM. For more information, visit www.stlucieco.gov/Aquarium or call 772-462-3474.