A Diamond in the Rough Receives Some Polish
By Frank Dame, Chairman of the Board Clearwater Marine Aquarium
What once was a water treatment facility for the City of Clearwater has been the home of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium since 1979. For years, the Aquarium struggled to make ends meet and the fifty-year-old facility was also showing its age. But now that's all changing. Over the past couple of years, a new and active board of directors replaced leadership and created a vision to re-vitalize not only the organization but the facility as well. David Yates, the new CEO, has been making changes to his staff and running the 501(c)(3) non profit organization as a truly professional team.
The aquarium engages in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine animals in addition to educating the public in the preservation of our marine environment. The Aquarium funds its operations through guest admissions, private events, fundraisers, summer camp programs, grants, gift shop sales and donations. But to be successful in its mission, the Aquarium cannot operate with a deficit and must have financial stability. Yates, a former CPA, recognized the importance of the Aquarium having financial integrity and engaged a leading accounting firm to complete a financial review of its books. This examination resulted in audited financial statements and credibility for the Aquarium.
With the Aquarium on solid financial ground, it was then able to apply for grants to help fund its mission. During the past year, the Aquarium was awarded several grants, held fundraisers and received donations. It then began developing plans for expanding its educational capabilities and upgrading facilities.
While the planning was underway, one of our residents, Winter, the tailless dolphin, was gaining celebrity status around the world. Winter lost her tail due to a crab trap entanglement on the East Coast and was brought to the Aquarium last year for care and treatment. One of the many stories written about Winter was read by Kevin Carroll, a vice president of the Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, a leading prosthetics company, who contacted the Aquarium and volunteered to try and retrofit a prosthetic tail on Winter. Over the last year, the research that went into developing Winter's tail has been used to help fit prosthetics on war veterans and others who have lost their limbs. Winter's story of surviving and overcoming her disability continues today and is inspiring many people with disabilities.
With all the attention from Winter's stories, visitor attendance has increased at the Aquarium and improvements have started. During the summer, the roof over the dolphin tank was removed to give the dolphins more light and room to jump. The City of Clearwater recognized the remarkable turnaround that has taken place at the Aquarium and the value it has provided in attracting tourists to the City by awarding a one time grant of $225,000 for needed improvements. In December, the Aquarium had a grand opening of its new, 120 seat IMAX type theater with a 25 foot curved screen that currently shows a feature video of a behind the scenes look at how the Aquarium fulfills its mission. The theater will also be used to expand education capabilities and perhaps have lectures relating to marine environmental preservation.
Underway is a massive renovation to resurface and paint the turtle and dolphin tanks, repairing roof leaks as well as improving the guest experience by expanding viewing areas for the dolphin shows, adding an underwater viewing area to the dolphin tanks, enhancing the fish tank with a sea grass exhibit, refurbishing the sting ray exhibit, adding educational kiosks and other exciting improvements.
The Aquarium is currently closed for the above mentioned renovations but will re-open to the public on January 31st, a date that coincides with an unveiling of a large statue of Winter, created by the world famous artist, Donji who will be attending the dedication.
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