ATLANTA (November 23, 2015) – In 2005, Georgia Aquarium opened its doors to Atlanta, and the world with the mission of being an entertaining, educational and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs with the highest standards. On November 23, 2015, as Georgia Aquarium celebrates its tenth anniversary, that mission still remains. Bernie and Billi Marcus generously donated $250 million to build Georgia Aquarium more than ten years ago to provide the city of Atlanta with the opportunity to see aquatic animals and ecosystems they may never see in their lifetime.
“We always knew what kind of influence the aquarium would have on redevelopment of downtown, that it would be a magnet for tremendous growth around Centennial Olympic Park. It has had a dramatic economic impact -- billions of dollars of investment and construction around the area, untold amounts of employment,” said Georgia Aquarium benefactor, Bernie Marcus. “Billi and I get such pleasure watching people's eyes and their expressions of joy and wonderment. I don't care, how many times I go there, I am still in awe of the variety and spectacle of all these fish in this habitat. It is a wonderful experience for all of us.”
Over the last decade, Georgia Aquarium has seen many transformations in its exhibits and the knowledge gained from research inside and outside its walls. At the time, Georgia Aquarium was the world’s largest aquarium ever constructed, and remains the largest in the Western hemisphere with over 10 million gallons of water and hundreds of species of animals. Along with numerous other accolades, this year Georgia Aquarium was voted the no. 1 aquarium in the U.S., and no. 2 in the world, by travel rating site, TripAdvisor.
“Georgia Aquarium would not be possible without Bernie and Billi Marcus. This gift to Atlanta has brought the ocean to the city and the aquatic world to so many who may never have experienced it,” said Georgia Aquarium chairman and CEO, Mike Leven. “We’ve been able to do cutting-edge research and educate and entertain millions of guests on our oceans with the gift from Bernie and Billi, something we are all very proud to celebrate on this tenth anniversary.”
Within the first year, Georgia Aquarium welcomed over 3.6 million guests and has welcomed over 22 million guests in its ten year history thus far. In addition to the millions of guests the Aquarium has entertained and educated, it has become home to a variety of different aquatic animals over the years. In 2008 and 2009, the first two manta rays, one of whom was rescued from tangled fishing lines in South Africa, were introduced to the Ocean Voyager Built by Home Depot habitat, followed by three orphaned and rescued southern sea otter pups, Bixby, Cruz, and Brighton in 2010. More recently, two rescued California sea lion pups from the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) made their way to Georgia Aquarium in August of this year and will help educate millions as part of the new sea lion exhibit opening in spring of 2016.
In 2006, the Aquarium’s 10,000 square foot veterinary facility was named The Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health after A.D. “Pete” Correll, retired chairman and CEO of Georgia-Pacific, and his wife Ada Lee. Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium facility that has opened with an integrated veterinarian teaching hospital on-site that specializes in wildlife medicine and veterinary pathology, in partnership with the University Of Georgia College Of Veterinary Medicine. This facility has helped to ensure the health and prosperity of all of Georgia Aquarium’s animals, and the success of the Aquarium’s aquatic animal medicine and conservation programs.
Keeping with the mission of entertaining and educating the public, in 2007, Georgia Aquarium established the Sponsored Education Admissions (SEA) program to offer free or discounted admission to school students that may not have an opportunity to visit the Aquarium. Since its inception, over 175,000 Title I students have benefitted from the SEA program, and in 2014 alone, 24,000 students visited the Aquarium under SEA.
Georgia Aquarium has also created a strong mission to help the brave men and women in our armed forces. In 2008, the Veterans Immersion Program was established to support those wounded veterans and to date, Georgia Aquarium has enabled over 1,500 veterans and their families to swim or dive alongside whale sharks, manta rays, and hundreds of other incredible animals in Ocean Voyager. Along with support from The Home Depot Foundation and private donors, many have been able to participate in the Veterans Immersion Program through their adjunctive therapy groups.
Being the only aquarium outside of Asia to house the largest fish in the world, whale sharks, has provided ample and unique opportunities for Georgia Aquarium and outside researchers to study this enigmatic animal. The first study of its kind on whale shark behavior was started in conjunction with Georgia State University at the Aquarium and the first blood draw from a whale shark occurred with Georgia Aquarium and Emory University research teams. This highly important feat has provided scientists and researchers the opportunity to analyze and sequence the whale shark DNA genome and this will eventually create an invaluable library to compare to other species’ immune systems and their evolution.
As Georgia Aquarium embarks on its next decade and decades to come, the mission of continuing to be a committed leader in working on behalf of all marine life through education, conservation, exceptional animal care, and research is ongoing. Without the remarkable gift from Bernie Marcus, this mission may never have been realized, research left unfulfilled, students unable to learn about aquatic life first-hand, and animals in need of an accredited zoological facility to care for them. This mission carries through into further decades and this has been Georgia Aquarium’s mission since its inception more than ten years ago, and it remains its mission each and every day.
Georgia Aquarium has welcomed animals, funded research projects, and made changes to its exhibits, to take a look back on ten years of discovery visit here.
ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM
Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization that contains more than 10 million gallons of water and has the largest collection of aquatic animals. Georgia Aquarium’s mission is to be a scientific institution that entertains and educates, features exhibits and programs of the highest standards, and offers engaging and exciting guest experiences that promote the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.