All is quiet in the Maine State Aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor, where tanks usually bubble with oxygen and marine creature’s movements. It is almost ghostly, the still bodies of construction equipment in place of the animals.
Tanks have been removed for renovations, and the creatures, or “critters,” as Education Director Dottie Yunger calls them, have been donated to other educational facilities.
To complete these renovations, the Maine State Aquarium will remain closed for the 2022 summer season.
Yunger, who joined the Department of Marine Resources last September, said, “Our hope was to be able to be open for the summer, and then be able to do any renovations that we wanted to do after that. We have found that we need to do renovations beforehand.”
She spoke with a mix of regret – to be closed as an educational facility – and enthusiasm – to be energized by ideas for the future.
“It’s a 30-year-old building that has been closed for two years. So even just being closed for two years means … it needed some TLC,” she said. “And you put those two things together and put it in a humid saltwater environment, and it’s like the perfect storm.”
There is a ghostly feeling to the empty and absent tanks, but also one of regeneration, as if the aquarium is molting.
“So our plan is to make/create exhibits that reflect the research and the researchers here at the Department of Marine Resources,” said Yunger.
Yunger shared reflections on previous installations and some limitations to the space prior to renovations. The changes allow the education team to shape a new space for new kinds of exhibitions, including incorporating live ocean data into exhibits.
“How are you going to get enough lobsters for the lobster industry to sustain itself, right, if you don’t have all of those stages, protected as well? So there’s some really cool research there. So the idea then, is to talk about lobsters. But talk about it in ways that connect to why DMR is interested in studying lobster, right? It’s not just for the sake of studying lobsters, not that that’s a bad thing.
“We need that research. But our research and our researchers have very specific, unique reasons why they’re studying things,” said Yunger. “That’s why we started renovating the space, because we wanted to do those kinds of exhibits.”
The aquarium anticipates opening next year for the 2023 season.