PINE KNOLL SHORES, N.C. — Before you head for the beach, WRAL's Morning News is cruising the coast for a look at what is new and changing. Our latest stop is a behind-the-scenes look at the North Carolina Aquarium -- where big changes are expected to double the number of visitors.
For nearly 28 years, people visiting the coast have been able to cool down at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. This summer, the aquarium is closed to business as it undergoes a major renovation expected to last two years.
The ocean tank is probably what people will consider the centerpiece for the aquarium," aquarium director Jay Barnes said.
The renovation was supposed to begin in 1999.
Workers were weeks away from breaking ground when Hurricane Floyd barreled through -- taking with it 15 million state government dollars allotted for the renovation.
"When we got the news that the funding was going to be diverted, we were very disappointed that we could not get started," Barnes said.
That is when the aquarium society stepped in, funding the $24 million project without state tax dollars -- the first for a state aquarium.
Some of the aquarium's "residents" are on loan, while others have been given away.
Barnes expects visitation to double once the new facility opens in spring 2006.
North Carolina aquariums in Manteo and Wilmington have completed renovations and are open to the public.