May 18, 2013 was a pretty good day to be an aquarium guy.
Dignitaries spoke, children representing local arts organizations cut a ribbon, and thousands of people flooded into the atrium of Center in the Square — where the Living Reef, Jellyfish, Seahorse, Roanoke Logperch and Turtles of Virginia aquariums were waiting for them. It was the first chance to see the reaction of the public at large since I first began consulting on the aquarium project in 2008. It was more rewarding than I could ever describe.
I texted Jeff Turner, President of Reef Aquaria Design in Coconut Creek Florida, whose company designed and whose team installed the aquariums. He called me right back. “You should be seeing this.” I told him. “The atrium is full and people are loving the aquariums.” Jeff had been living here along with his crew from about a month prior to the opening and had just returned home for some well-earned R-and-R. He is one of just a few people in the country who could have created such world class public aquariums, and I wanted him to know how people were reacting to his work. To a person, they were loving it.
As a member of Center’s Tank Team volunteers, I happily stood by the Reef aquarium answering a few questions, but mostly watching the people as they watched the fish, and the corals, and the hermit crabs and the cleaner shrimp and everything else happening in the aquarium. It was rewarding to see people realize that the longer they watched — the more they saw, and the more drawn-in they were to the world on the other side of the 2 1/2″ of acrylic.
Across the room, the seahorses were the favorites of many, and the jellies held people in awe as they tried to figure out what makes these brainless and spineless — yet very much alive creatures — tick.
Another woman told me how happy she was that we included the Roanoke River aquarium, so children could “learn about the ocean, but our own river too.” Thank you for that. It was my thought exactly. For the record, we don’t yet have the required permit to house the endangered Roanoke Logprech in that aquarium. Eventually we will not only add the logperch — but many educational materials, so people can understand and appreciate the river they largely take for granted.
The Turtles of Virginia — I must admit are more engaging than I ever imagined. They have acclimated well to life at Center. They come to the glass and beg for food, almost like a dog. They swim and climb on the unique piece of driftwood we collected from the riverbank, and have become an instant crowd favorite.
The public’s reaction to the aquariums — which by the way are free to the public all of the time Center is open — could not have been better. A great day for a fish geek.