A Sea Of Opportunity

By Andrew Rossiter, Ph.D
Wednesday - December 03, 2008
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By Andrew Rossiter, Ph.D.
Director of the Waikiki Aquarium

As director of the Waikiki Aquarium, I’m often asked how our facility compares to other aquariums throughout the world. My answer is always this: We may be small in size, but in terms of reputation, achievements and quality of staff, we’re huge.

Despite our size, productivity at the Waikiki Aquarium is very high, even when compared to larger institutions on the Mainland. The aquarium now offers more kinds of programs to more people on a per capita basis than any Mainland aquarium. There is no other aquarium in the U.S. with the same diversity of educational programs and offerings, none with the same impact in the development of unique new displays of marine life, and few that can boast the same degree of success in research programs or publications. This is particularly significant when you realize that the Waikiki Aquarium is the third-oldest public aquarium in the United States.

We emphasize quality over quantity. Perhaps most revealing in this regard is the fact that in 2005, the Waikiki Aquarium was selected by its aquarium peers as being among the top four U.S. aquariums, and was featured nationally as part of a PBS documentary to this effect.


When the Waikiki Aquarium opened on March 19, 1904, it was home to 400 aquatic animals. Today, the aquarium is home to more than 3,300 animals representing more than 500 species. Visitors are able to come face to face with reef sharks, living corals, giant clams, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, jellyfish and a plethora of colorful native fishes, several of which can be seen in no other aquarium worldwide.

Since 1919, the aquarium has been under the care of the University of Hawaii. Great strides in aquatic research and education have been made by dedicated scientists and today the aquarium staff continues to be at the cutting edge of conservation research on native Hawaiian species and also supports research projects by UH biologists. One ongoing project is investigating rearing Hawaiian lobsters from the egg stage, which has never before been accomplished in captivity.

Andrew Rossiter speaks at a press conference with Joel Paschal and Marcus Eriksen of the JUNK raft

Throughout our history, we have boasted many firsts: first in the world to exhibit the Hawaiian monk seal and first in the nation to exhibit and hatch nautilus, to exhibit and propagate Pacific corals, to raise seven generations of mahimahi, and to exhibit giant clams, blacktip sharks and cuttlefish. In addition, the aquarium’s research on the propagation of coral has developed into a program that boasts the oldest - and probably largest - collection of living corals in the United States. We are now focusing some of our expertise and ambitions on establishing a Coral Ark at the aquarium, in which threatened species of coral can be conserved, studied and propagated, with a view toward eventual reintroduction into the wild.

As we look to the future, we are working toward establishing a new master plan for our renovation and renewal. It is our aim that the Waikiki Aquarium will continue to entertain and educate visitors, residents, students and school groups through the next century, if not beyond. Therefore, we need to continue marketing to target audiences and raising funds for new exhibits, exhibit renovations and programs. It is our view that a modern aquarium must be much more than simply a glass zoo for fishes; it must address research, conservation and education about marine life all under the mantle of an entertaining and enjoyable visitor experience.

Throughout its long history, and even through funding challenges and distractions posed by plans for other aquariums on Oahu, the Waikiki Aquarium has never lacked vision or ambition. Today, there is an ocean of opportunity before us to be the cutting-edge aquarium and marine information and education center of the Pacific - an institution that interacts with the community of Hawaii, fosters an awareness of the marine environment, serves as a showcase for the activities and research of the university’s marine biology programs and is accessible to people of all ages - and beyond that, maybe even home to the largest aquarium in the world!

These are challenging times economically, but also exciting times. Dive in and join us as we move toward becoming the premier institute that Hawaii so richly deserves.

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