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Fishnado, Coming Soon to a Port Near You?

Is an aquarium in the Capital Region a real possibility?

by Molly Eadie on July 17, 2013

“How cool is that when your grandchild comes home and says, ‘I touched a shark today!’”

This is Nancy Behrens’ vision of an aquarium in Albany—a place for learning and exploring science, which she said could bring jobs and tourism to the Capital Region.

Behrens’ and others have started Albany Aquarium, a group that had its first public forum Monday (July 15) at the main branch of the Albany Public Library to hear concerns and ideas. The group has gained support and thousands on followers on its Facebook page.

Sites being considered include Albany, Cohoes, Green Island, Schenectady and Troy—all because of their waterfront access. If the endeavor is successful, Behrens said the project could take eight to 10 years and $50 to $100 million, and create 100 direct jobs while creating even more indirect ones.

“We can look at countless other cities and find that their waterfronts have been revitalized,” Behrens said at the forum, mentioning the Tennessee Aquarium as an example.

The group is currently in the process of raising money for the initial steps in this long process: first legal fees to establish nonprofit status, and then $50,000 for a feasibility study. The group is raising money on a crowd funding website.

The aquarium would then be funded through donations, grants and fundraising, and Behrens is confident it could be accomplished.

At the meeting, several ideas of possible exhibits were presented. Proposals and framework ideas indicated a focus on local biology and geology—from the Hudson River and Long Island—as well as species found on the East, West and Gulf coasts. There would be a touch-tank, where visitors could touch young sharks and other animals, larger tanks with grown sharks, a coral exhibit, and an exhibit that rotated every two years or so. Ideas for this changing exhibit included invasive species and climate change.

In one proposal, there would also be a free pool with seals outside of the aquarium, free for any visitors who wanted to stop by and see them, which Behrens described as a way of giving back to the community.

“We want tourists to come again and again and make it an annual trip,” said Behrens.

While an aquarium was at one point proposed in the plans for a convention center in downtown Albany, this project is totally separate. Behrens is a teacher who has taught in Long Island and Schenectady, among other places, and her main interest in the aquarium is to educate children and get them interested in life science.

Not everyone agrees that this is the best way to teach children about animals.

Marlon Anderson, a 2014 Albany mayoral candidate, voiced concerns about the cost, which he feared would be on the backs of taxpayers for a relatively small gain—about 100 jobs. Behrens pointed out that they did not plan on asking the city for money, and had other ideas for funding.

“These animals are much more intelligent than we give them credit for,” said local veterinarian and animal activist Holly Cheever. “I’m also an educator and I really empathize with you, I would love to get children more steeped in the fascination of the natural world around us—to get out there so they can kick butt so they can bring the plant back from the verge of extinction. . . . But I’m not sure that incarcerating intelligent beings is the best way to do it.”

Cheever said she would love to see Berhens’ project, rather than live animals, use digital simulations, 3-D video and other means to learn about the new knowledge of fish, rather than, “as they do in Boston, watch fish bored out of their brains going around in circles day after day.”

Another person in the audience responded that if it wasn’t for a visit to an aquarium as a youth, he probably would not have become a biology teacher.