The Texas State Aquarium: continuing to grow and evolve at 25 years old
By: Richard E. Glover Jr.
What started as nothing more than a dream in the late 1960s has grown into the No. 1 cultural attraction in the Coastal Bend and an aquarium with a strong national reputation. The Texas State Aquarium was the direct result of that dream, which was achieved through the hard work of a great number of people – and after 25 years of operation, the aquarium continues to grow and evolve.
In 1969, the Junior League of Corpus Christi and the local Jaycees formed a coalition creating the Gulf Coast Zoological and Botanical Society, the purpose of which was to build an aquarium in Corpus Christi. In 1975, members of Leadership Corpus Christi offered their support to the project.
In 1978, a decision was made to change the name of the organization to the Corpus Christi Aquarium Association to encourage local enthusiasm and support. Shortly thereafter, in 1979, the Junior League of Corpus Christi donated $50,000 to launch the fundraising effort to build an aquarium in Corpus Christi.
Fundraising continued through the 1980s, with major gifts from the Earl C. Sams Foundation, the Brown Foundation and the Houston Endowment, as well as investments from the Corpus Christi Downtown Reinvestment Zone and Housing Finance Corporation, propelling the project forward, along with a $4.4 million bond issue approved by voters in 1986 for the improvement of public properties surrounding the site.
That same year, the organization’s name was changed again – this time to the Texas State Aquarium Association (TSAA), largely in recognition to the fact that the Texas State Legislature had designated the proposed aquarium the “Official Aquarium of Texas” in 1985. Also in 1986, TSAA purchased 6.3 acres of land on the southern tip of North Beach as the aquarium’s future site.
Construction on the Texas State Aquarium’s Gulf of Mexico Exhibit Building began in September 1988, and the aquarium opened to the public on July 6, 1990, to great fanfare. Since that time, the Texas State Aquarium has educated and inspired more than 11 million visitors from all over the world.
Over the years, the Texas State Aquarium has grown in both size and stature, adding many new exhibits, as well as educational and conservation programs. Today, the aquarium is host to approximately 500,000 visitors per year, it saw more than 84,000 participants in its educational programming in 2014 and it cares for hundreds of sick and injured animals every year through its Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Program.
Additionally, through its Wildlife Care Conservation and Research Fund (WCCR), the aquarium supports important research programs that focus on habitat restoration, wildlife management, conservation and wildlife rehabilitation in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Texas State Aquarium is home to more than 3,000 animals of more than 280 species, and it continues to receive accolades for its excellence. The Texas State Aquarium has been named one of the top 10 aquariums in North America by the readers of USA Today, one of the top 20 aquariums in the United States by TravelChannel.com and one of the top 25 aquariums in the U.S. by TripAdvisor.com.
The Texas State Aquarium continues to forge forward toward an exciting future that will greatly expand the aquarium’s offerings. In 2012, the aquarium launched Campaign Caribbean, a campaign designed to raise the funds needed to construct a $50-plus million expansion that will bring the sights, sounds and vibrant wildlife of the Western Caribbean to the shores of South Texas.
In December 2014, the aquarium broke ground on the expansion, which is expected to open in 2017. When completed, the Caribbean Journey expansion will be the realization of the aquarium founders’ vision and master plan that was set in motion more than 30 years ago.
Ever changing and evolving, millions of guests have enjoyed hands-on fun, been inspired by the animals and programs, learned about the importance of preserving the natural world around them and built lasting memories for 25 years at the Texas State Aquarium. It has truly become a must-see destination for visitors to the Coastal Bend.
The Texas State Aquarium is located at 2710 N. Shoreline Blvd. in Corpus Christi, Texas. For more information, please visit www.texastateaquarium.org or call 361-881-1200.
Photos Courtesy of Texas State Aquarium