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New aquarium in Newport, Rhode Island, invites visitors to touch & understand Narragansett Bay


Even a casual visitor to Rhode Island will quickly notice the love and devotion that the state’s people have for the majestic Narragansett Bay.

A traveler may barely swerve off a highway or step out of a city, but he or she will notice Bay-related icons: staffed clams, sea glass jewelry, public art of waves and splashes, Narragansett brand beer, and, in winter, plenty of tarp-covered boats in backyards.

There are many ways to dive into Narragansett Bay (beaches? cruises?) and a new one has just opened. The state’s respected advocacy organization, Save the Bay, just opened a brand-new aquarium, The Hamilton Family Aquarium, at 23 America’s Cup Avenue, in the heart of Newport. It opens to the public on March 28, 2024.

The 7,000-square-foot space is a home of marvels, and so much fun to explore, especially, perhaps, for kids, because there are a lot of animals to touch and hold.

Visitors are greeted immediately on entering by a giant mural of a waterfront image, one of three that connect more than a dozen exhibits, including touch tanks for holding and stroking crabs, flukes, and even sharks. One tank is centered in a room, and it has a built-in tunnel where kids can hunker down, surrounded by the fishes.

An ingenious interactive sand box – designed to show how a watershed works – allows people to dig into and move the sand. As sand levels raise and lower, an overhead projection of colored lights displays different colors on different sand levels, like an extra-vivid contour map.

Popular tanks are one containing a village of seahorses moving gracefully among sea grasses. Another, in a low-light room called The Bay at Night, shows moon jellyfish, which, during the height of the aquarium’s opening day on March 18, were waving graceful, hair-like tentacles to scoop florescent-orange bits of food into the hollow of their bodies.

A very big window overlooking a utility room offers visitors a way to watch marine biologists move among tanks, pools, and piping as they manage the care and feeding of the animals and environment. On opening day, aquarium curator Adam Kovarsky showed visitors a small tank of 3-week-old seahorses, perfectly formed and about the size of a thumbnail.

Adam Kovarsky, aquarium curator, shows a tank of 3-week-old seahorses. Photos by Mary Lhowe

Since the aquarium is the creation of the state’s 54-year-old Bay advocacy group, managers feel like they have a special duty to educate and inspire people about the rich and complex marine habitat that is Narragansett Bay.

Jonathan Stone, former executive director of Save the Bay, who headed the organization during much of the planning, said, “Most aquariums are stand-alone entities; we are not. The purpose of the aquarium is to inspire stewardship of the Narragansett Bay, and we hope guests will leave as different people.”

Planners want the aquarium to be accessible to all people, both physically and financially. It is in the center of Newport, adjacent to a very big parking lot. It is served by RIPTA (Rhode Island Public Transit Authority) buses on Routes 14, 60, 63, 64, 231 Flex, and hop-on-hop-off routes 67 and 68.

In summer, a ferry operates between Providence, on the mainland, and Newport – just right for a day trip from the state capital to Newport, for any purpose.

Admission is $15 for people over age 2, with discounts for seniors and active and retired military. Through the Museums for All program, families that receive SNAP benefits will be admitted for free.


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