ATLANTA (December 30, 2015) – Georgia Aquarium announced today that Joe Handy is the organization’s new chief operating officer and executive vice president. Handy was hired in 2005 by Georgia Aquarium founder Bernie Marcus as one of the members of the opening team for the attraction. In his new position, Handy will lead operations for one of the city’s most visited attractions as it celebrates its 10thanniversary. Handy replaces COO Mark Schafer, who has stepped down for personal reasons and will stay on as a consultant to the aquarium for several months. 

“We thank Mark for his excellent service and understand his decision to move on,” said Georgia Aquarium CEO Mike Leven. “I’m confident Joe’s leadership will help us grow our nonprofit’s mission and reach over the next 10 years. Joe was one of our founder Bernie Marcus’ first hires and he’s been a trusted member of our team for a decade. He understands the value of Bernie and Billi Marcus’ gift to the city and he’s passionate about sharing our cutting-edge research and educational programs with our millions of guests.”

Handy began his aquarium career in 2005 as director of visitor services. In 2014, he was promoted to senior vice president of guest experience and education, responsible for developing educational programs for guests and staff and for guest services and programs including ticketing, the AT&T Dolphin Tales show and behind-the-scenes tours.

“I hired Joe for his dynamic personality and his commitment to making this a great experience for visitors,” said Bernie Marcus, Georgia Aquarium’s benefactor. “Joe continues to inspire both our staff and our visitors and I can’t imagine anyone better prepared for this job than Joe.”

Prior to Georgia Aquarium, Handy worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for nine years and helped open the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Handy was born and raised in New York, where he graduated with honors from The College of New Rochelle with a Liberal Arts Degree concentrated in Political Science. He is currently attending the executive MBA program at Kennesaw State.

Handy is active in the top organizations for zoos and aquariums, including Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). He’s also involved in community organizations including 100 Black Men of North Metro Atlanta, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Baker Street Advisory Board representing Centennial Olympic Park.

“I’m as excited today to receive our 23 millionth guest as I was the day we opened our doors,” Handy said. “I love that this organization has been a leader in economic development for downtown Atlanta, is leading in research and preservation for some of our ocean’s most endangered species and has opened the eyes of millions of children to the wonders of the underwater world. I couldn’t be more proud to be chosen to help advance Billi and Bernie’s gift. This is a great privilege.” 

Over the last 10 years, the aquarium in downtown Atlanta has led the urban renewal around Centennial Olympic Park and picked up accolades for its popularity and great visitor experience. It was voted the No. 1 aquarium in the United States and No. 2 in the world by travel rating site TripAdvisor. In December, it was named the most Instagrammed place in the state of Georgia by TIME.  

To celebrate its 10th year, Georgia Aquarium is planning for new sea lion, dolphin and penguin experiences, in addition to new habitats for electric eels and sea turtles.



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