A Brief History
On September 17, 1976, the state opened three North Carolina Marine Resources Centers – one at Fort Fisher, one at Pine Knoll Shores, and one on Roanoke Island. The centers were launched as research and education facilities, which also offered small exhibits that were open to the public.
The centers quickly became popular, and in 1986, they were renamed the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. That same year, a group of dedicated citizens incorporated a membership-based support group, the North Carolina Aquarium Society.
Attendance continued to soar. In 1996, the State launched a plan to triple the size of the crowded and aging facilities. The Aquarium on Roanoke Island unveiled its renovation in 2000, Fort Fisher followed in 2002, and Pine Knoll Shores reopened in 2006.
The Pine Knoll Shores expansion was initially slated to begin in 2000, but a $15 million appropriation was diverted to Hurricane Floyd relief efforts in 1999. The state budget did not support funding in subsequent years. The North Carolina Aquarium Society then forged a public/private partnership with the North Carolina Aquariums and financed the $25 million expansion.
The N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is situated in the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area, which is mostly maritime forest. Descendants of President Theodore Roosevelt donated 298 acres of maritime forest to the state in 1971. They stipulated the acreage be maintained as a nature preserve and used for nature and wildlife education and estuarine studies. Acres surrounding the aquarium dedicated as a natural area commemorate Presidents Roosevelt’s commitment to conservation.
There are two nature trails at the aquarium. The Roosevelt Nature Trail is accessible from the parking lot and the Alice Hoffman Trail leads from the Aquarium Saltmarsh Boardwalk. Alice Hoffman bequeathed the land that is now the Roosevelt Natural Area to her niece, who was married to Theodore Roosevelt Jr. The family donated the land to the state after that in 1971.
Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The North Carolina Aquariums Division, under the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, operates the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and also the North Carolina Aquariums at Fort Fisher and on Roanoke Island, and Jennette's Pier.
The three North Carolina Aquariums and Jennette's Pier fall under the state division of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. All three Aquariums are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. All four facilities are Kulture City certified and NC Green Travel certified.