7 aquariums to visit along the Gulf Coast
The roar of ocean waves crashing onto the shore mingles with the song of seabirds hovering above your head as you relax in a beach chair soaking up the sun. It’s a relaxing scene, isn’t it? But as author Dave Barry once wrote, “When you finally see what’s going on underwater, you realize you’ve missed most of the ocean. ”
The world’s oceans are awe-inspiring, a unique world that is home to both beauty and danger – magnificent colorful coral reefs teeming with life, marshes and estuaries, and predators that silently hide beneath the waves.
Lucky for us, there are many spectacular public aquariums across the country that allow us to experience this fascinating aquatic kingdom with some of the best located along the Gulf Coast of the United States, from Key West to New Orleans.
Let me introduce you to eight of the best aquariums in the Gulf that you should plan to visit.
Key West Aquarium – Key West, Florida
The story of Key West Aquarium is fascinating in itself. Built by the young men of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression, the aquarium opened in February 1935 only to close 6 months later after being destroyed by a devastating hurricane.
After being dismantled by the US government and used as a military training center during WWII, the land was released to the public in 1946 and the aquarium was rebuilt bigger and better than before. Today, it is an incredible research center that actively works to preserve the delicate ecosystem of keys and to raise public awareness of its fragility.
Visitors to the aquarium can see moray eels, barracudas and sea cucumbers. The aquarium is home to four endangered species of sea turtles that cannot be released: the green turtle, loggerhead, hawksbill turtle and Kemp Ridley.
There is a touch tank which allows visitors to learn about (and touch) marine life found in keys near coastal waters such as conch shells, starfish, giant hermit crabs and slate pencil sea urchins while the shark show lets you come face to face with sandbank sharks and black nose sharks.
The most fascinating reservoir is the Jellyfish exhibition where dozens of ghostly tentacled creatures float serenely.
The Key West Aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine, but will close if there is a special event booked such as a wedding. Visit his website for updates. It is recommended to buy tickets in advance online.
Meet the Florida Keys Aquarium – Marathon, Florida
Don a wetsuit, don the fins, snorkel and have fun jumping into the water to explore the mango lagoon at Meet the Florida Keys Aquarium. The private lagoon is an enclosed bay which helps protect it from the harsh wind conditions of the keys, providing an incredible snorkeling experience. All the equipment is provided for this unique experience.
Besides the snorkeling adventure, the aquarium has a tidal pool touch tank, 200,000 gallon salt water reef aquarium which mimics the coastal reef system of the keys, predatory reef aquarium that allows you to get up close – but not too close – to nurse, black tip and flathead sharks, and a Feeding encounter where you can experience feeding Florida’s iconic fish – the tarpon.
You will whet your appetite by visiting the aquarium, so grab a bite at the Aigle Ray Cafe which serves delicious fish sandwiches, daily lunch specials and a full range of beers and wines.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium – Sarasota, Florida
the Mote marine laboratory and aquarium (MMLA )’s mission is to help fight climate change, pollution and overfishing. One of the methods used to achieve this goal is to educate the public, which the MMLA aquarium does.
MMLA uses exhibitions and hands-on informative activities, including eco-boat trips and kayak paddles around Sarasota Bay to experience dolphins and manatees while learning about the surrounding waters.
The highlight of the aquarium is the breakfast with the sharks. Watch and learn as the staff feed the caphead sharks while you dine on a continental breakfast.
Mote is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., including public holidays. Buy your tickets online or at the aquarium.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park – Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico is the spectacular Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, and that it is – an adventure for all ages. You and your family could be:
Star dolphin where you can go ‘on stage’ with masters to touch and feed the dolphins during one of the shows, stand in the shallow water of the dolphin pool to touch, play and learn in the Dolphin splash, same tuba with stingrays.
Add to the list an encounter with reptiles, penguins and more, along with fun sea lion shows and you are guaranteed to have an amazing day of fun.
Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab – Dauphin Island, Alabama
Located on Alabama’s barrier island, the Dauphin Island Marine Laboratory (DISL) is an educational institution that studies the effects of climate change, development and pollution on the Gulf and its estuaries with programs ranging from elementary school to senior level.
Although small in size, the Estuary at DISL and the Public Aquarium gives us a fascinating glimpse into the marine life of Alabama’s four coastal habitats – the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta (the country’s second delta), Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands of the Gulf and Gulf of Mexico – with many hands-on and interactive exhibits.
The estuarium has 31 aquariums in total with over 100 species of marine life, a 7,000-gallon stingray touch pool, educational tours with staff to a salt marsh, and 2-hour educational trips to the Gulf. on board the research vessel Discovery of Alabama.
Plan to visit the Sea Lab on the first Saturday in April when it is held Discovery day, a full day of education with guided tours by staff and trainees as well as guided kayaking around the island and its marshes.
The Estuarium and the aquarium are open Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased in line.
Mississippi Aquarium – Gulfport, Mississippi
the Mississippi Aquarium has one of the most incredible experiences you can have without scuba diving. It’s called SeaTrek and you can literally swim with the fish (in a good way).
Participants don wetsuits, don helmets, and dive underwater to explore the reservoir with the fish swimming around you. You can actually hear the guides in the helmet describing what you see as you walk along the bottom of the tank. And no need to know how to swim to participate.
Another highlight is the Explore the Aquarium tour of the aquarium, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes tour of how the museum works.
The aquarium also offers a full day of exhibits to explore with otters, sea turtles, parrots, penguins and everything in between.
Visit the aquarium’s website to see details of its daily programs which introduces you to the animals and fish in the aquarium.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets can be bought in line.
While Gulfport has a plethora of excellent dining options, the Aquarium Pelican Pointe Cafe worth a visit for mouth-watering burgers, nachos, hot dogs and more, plus an extensive menu of craft beers and local and local wines.
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas – New Orleans, LA
One of the largest aquariums in the country completes the list. In fact, it was ranked among the top 10 aquariums in the country by Travel and leisure review – the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
Located near the French Quarter on the Mississippi River, the Aquarium of the Americas takes visitors on a journey to the Caribbean, the Amazon rainforest, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, presenting guests with over 3,600 animals including over 250 species, many of which are rare and endangered such as the beautiful white alligator and the African penguin.
The incredible 13,000 gallon shark tank houses one of the largest collections of sharks, such as the bamboo white-spotted shark, coral cat shark, and more.
The most popular attraction is Penguin experience. You could spend hours watching these rare African penguins who love to glide, play and frolic in their enclosure. Most of them were born in the aquarium. The penguin meals take place twice a day, but the real fun is getting a Backstage Penguin Pass which allows you to be a keeper for 90 minutes.
For this one you really have to get your tickets in line. Being near the French Quarter, the aquarium can get crowded. Weekdays are the best days to visit with smaller crowds. There is no public parking at the aquarium but there are many parking lots near the building. I know you’ll want to dine at one of New Orleans’ great restaurants, but if you want something quick, there’s the Aqua Grill Café at the Aquarium that serves custom-made sandwiches and salads.
Other wildlife encounters can enhance a travel experience: