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Audubon Commission Hosted First of Three Community Meetings On Aquarium of the Americas' Bright Future


The Aquarium Committee of the Audubon Commission hosted the first in a series of three community meetings on Tuesday, November 1.

On Tuesday, November 1, the Aquarium Committee of the Audubon Commission hosted the first in a series of three community meetings to receive public input on future programming, exhibitry and capital projects at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Audubon Nature Institute opened the doors to the world-class Aquarium on September 2, 1990, to nearly 14,000 visitors, setting an opening-day record for U.S. aquariums. In its first year, the Aquarium welcomed about 2 million visitors, surpassing all attendance expectations.

Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman told commission members and guests that he wants to hear from all segments of the community about ways the Aquarium can maintain and grow its status as a premier destination for residents and visitors alike over the next 25 years.

Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman
We must continue to improve and grow. Aquarium of the Americas is the No. 1 attraction for families in Louisiana -  a boon for education and family tourism. We want to keep it that way.'
Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman

Among the ideas Forman said Audubon plans to explore is an attraction that illustrates the threats to the world's shark population posed by overfishing. Forman also said he wants to hear from the public - particularly children - about possible changes to the aquarium's popular penguin, Gulf of Mexico and Amazon Rainforest exhibits.

Forman said he hopes to present conceptual ideas to the commission at the third of the three community meetings. He stressed that he does not envision any increase in the size of the aquarium.

Rich Toth, managing director of the Aquarium, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Entergy Giant Screen Theater and Woldenberg Riverfront Park; Beth Firchau, director of husbandry at the Aquarium; and Brenda Walkenhorst, director of education projects at Audubon Nature Institute, also made presentations.

Toth said the Aquarium staff is committed to expanding its role as a leader in conservation and "being a community partner.''

In the coming years, Walkenhorst said her staff hopes to expand opportunites to all sectors of the community, particularly by offering more programs for those with special needs, seniors and young people.

Walkenhorst said she envisions more hands-on encounters such as shark and stiingray touch pools, additional sensory experiences that use natural sound, music and video and "citizen science projects'' for youth such as fishing trips and instructional sessions on "why water is important.''

Firchau said the Aqauirum also will continue to make customer service a top priority for guests "from the moment you get out of the car.''

She said visitors must always feel "comfortable and appreciated'' and experience "excitement at every turn.'' Going forward, Firchau said the Aquarium will explore new ways to use technology to personalize the guest experience while continuing to deliver conservation messaging.

Since its opening in 1990, the Aquarium has continued to exceed all expectations with approximately 32 million visitors to date and continues to be an anchor for family tourism. Along with other Audubon Nature Institute facilities, the Aquarium has provided an economic impact of more than $600 million for the city.

Commission members in attendance were Commission President J. Kelly Duncan, Danny Conwil, Deborah Harkins, Beth Lambert, Chris Meeks and Field Ogden.

The next committee meeting will be held on Thursday, December 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pisces Room at the Aquarium and all are welcome to attend, including children.

Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Nature Institute operates a family of museums, parks and research facilities dedicated to celebrating the wonders of nature. Through innovative live animal exhibits, education programs and scientific discovery, Audubon makes a meaningful contribution to preserving wildlife for the future. Audubon Nature Institute flagships include Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and Audubon Wilderness Park. Ron Forman is President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute.