Final Word: The Age of Aquarium

Want a destination worth the drive? A real year-round boon for the beaches? Put on your water wings. Have we got an idea for you.

Illustration © by Dav Bordeleau

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It seems to me that somebody around here needs to build an aquarium.

Baltimore has one. Camden does, too. Why can’t we? We are a maritime state with a wealth of aquatic environments—ocean, bay, river, stream. It just makes sense.

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The Christina Riverfront and the beach area both have advantages as prospective sites, so we can let the Riverfront Development Corporation and Sussex County Council duke it out for dibs. An aquarium would certainly make a tidy adjunct to the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge near Frawley Stadium, but since I’ve put it out there, I’m lobbying for the beach.

An aquarium could serve several purposes. And one at the beach could offer things Baltimore and Camden don’t. As a research facility for the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies, an aquarium could accomplish the dual purpose of educating students and the public. Certainly the university could help with its administration, if not manage it outright.

An aquarium could also serve as headquarters for the MERR Institute or a facility for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Imagine being able to rehabilitate ailing dolphins and sea turtles before they’re returned to the sea—again, with help from the College of Marine Studies. The state could take pride in showing youngsters and others one little way in which we’re trying to better the world. (No Sea World-style animal shows, thank you.)

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Just as important, an aquarium would be a true year-round attraction in an area that, arguably, could use one. Even in the dead of winter, when it could be low on visitors, the place would still serve a noble cause.

It has always seemed to me that Sussex County Council’s idea of economic development is to create a glut of low-wage retail jobs by approving every strip center proposed for Route 1. Shopping, they reason, draws visitors year round. And that may be true. But shouldn’t there be something more? Something with a higher purpose? What of cultural and educational attractions?

So better than build an aquarium, build an aquarium as part of a larger cultural-educational complex, one with space for local institutions such as the proposed Rehoboth Beach Art Museum or Dale Clifton’s DiscoverSea. (Really, how often does anyone travel to DelTech in Georgetown just to see Treasures of the Sea?) Create a convention facility. (Rehoboth’s is too small, and Dover’s may never come to pass.) Why not a concert hall? (I’m sure Dewey’s town commission would love it if the folks from the Cork would stage their concerts elsewhere.) And while we’re at it, let’s add an IMAX theater. What better place to view “Whales: An Unforgettable Journey” or “Deep Sea 3D”? (Critics say you can practically touch the giant octopus.)

It’s not a modest vision, but you have to start somewhere.

I’m headed to Hadfield’s to watch the lobsters. Anyone care to join me?


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