Not Quite Business as Usual at N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher: New Safety Protocols and Upgrades

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Not Quite Business as Usual at N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher: New Safety Protocols and Upgrades

For years visitors to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher knew what to expect when they arrived at one of the state’s most visited attractions, home to sharks, sea turtles, an albino alligator and much more. These days, connections with nature and animals are still being made, but it’s not quite business as usual for staff or visitors.

The aquarium staff worked hard to implement a variety of health protections before opening to the public on Sept. 14, after a nearly six-month closure to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Returning guests found many changes, from new and safer operating and ticketing procedures to exciting new habitats for animals in aquarium care.

“For decades locals and visitors have counted on the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher for planned excursions, rainy day distractions and an all-around fun time with friends and family,” said Aquarium Director Hap Fatzinger. “This remains consistent, but now a little more planning is necessary to create those memorable moments.” 

Contactless ticketing and limited guest capacity require all aquarium tickets to be purchased online in advance for designated times. Each time slot has limited tickets to assist with physical distance between guests.

“Our goal is to create the best and safest visitor experience possible,” said Joanna Zazzali, visitor services coordinator. “This starts with guests purchasing tickets prior to their Aquarium arrival. If guests visit the aquarium without advanced tickets, they may need to return at a later time, especially on busy weekends, holidays or rainy days when tickets sell out.”

North Carolina Aquarium Society Members also need to make reservations in this new era when capacity is a concern, Zazzali said. Member drop-ins are no longer an option. Membership still includes free admission but reserving a time for entry is necessary.

“We know this is a change for our loyal supporters, but it is critical to track our capacity limits and maintain space for a six-foot distance between visitors in different parties,” said Zazzali.

During the Aquarium’s closure, the Fort Fisher team planned and prepared, with the assistance of state officials and public health experts, for safer operating procedures. Some of these include increased disinfection of the facility, indication of high touch areas, and pausing free daily public programs including tours, dive shows and public feedings. In addition, as outlined in the state’s Executive Order 163, guests and staff are required to wear face masks. Similar procedures are in place at N.C. Aquariums at Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island.

Ticketing and safety modifications aren’t the only differences guests discover when they visit Fort Fisher. The aquarium’s Fresh Water Conservatory closed for renovations and repairs to the roof and fire suppression system in November 2019. With those repairs complete, the building is open, bright and full of surprises. A fan favorite, Luna the albino alligator, can again be seen on the visitor pathway.


The most noticeable change in the conservatory is a new Asian small-clawed otter habitat, “Otters on the Edge.” A renovation of an existing area created an approximately 3,000-square-foot space that will be home to a family of four otters. While guests can currently check out the streams, waterfalls and log slide, the exhibit is not yet fully open. Final adjustments and modifications are being made and the animals are being introduced slowly to their new environment.

“Otters on the Edge” is located at the conservatory entrance where Maverick, a rescued bald eagle, resided until the roof repairs began. Maverick’s new home in the outdoor garden was completed by Aquarium staff during the public closure. The natural area and decking are built specifically to the raptor’s abilities and feature low perches and a stream where the eagle enjoys bathing.

“Our team has worked tirelessly this year so the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher can provide a safer and more exciting visitor experience for our guests,” said Fatzinger. “We look forward to seeing everyone soon!”

For more information and to purchase tickets or make member reservations visit:


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