They cover the coast from the Outer Banks to Cape Fear, but the four North Carolina Aquarium facilities at Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island and Jennette’s Pier are important statewide. All rank among the state’s twenty most-visited attractions, and their combined annual visitation of over 1.2 million tops the list. They are valuable assets to the state for their broad educational impact, their work as environmental stewards, and their significant role in driving the state’s $20-billion tourism economy. Their perennial popularity makes them valuable assets for visiting families, school students and teachers, and communities across the state.

Founded in 1976, the Aquariums are an agency of the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. They have been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 1990, demonstrating their commitment to the highest standards of animal care, visitor and employee safety, educational effectiveness, and environmental conservation. The Aquariums’ mission is to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments.

In 1986, the North Carolina Aquarium Society was formed as a nonprofit (501(c)(3)) support organization to assist the Aquariums in the fulfillment of their mission. Through a Memorandum of Agreement with NCDNCR, the Society partners with the Aquariums to raise private funds to make them better — by supporting their priorities of new exhibits, animals, education programs and conservation initiatives.

The Society generates cash from gift shop, membership, and concession revenues, and also focuses on grant acquisition and private fundraising. These efforts enable the Society to work closely with Aquarium leaders to plan new projects, exhibits and programs that otherwise might not be possible with limited state funds.
“Supporting the Aquarium is good business — it helps drive the local economy, and our Business Membership offers something special for our employees and their families.”Dean Wagaman, Kurtis Chevrolet, Morehead City, NC.
Over the last two decades the Aquarium Society has helped raise more than $15 million for the Aquariums through private contributions in support of four separate capital campaigns — one for major expansion and renovation of each of the Aquariums and the construction of Jennette’s Pier. Roanoke Island was renovated in 2000, Fort Fisher in 2002, and Pine Knoll Shores in 2006. Each of these projects more than doubled the size of the facilities, adding exciting new exhibits and animals like large sharks, jellyfish, river otters and alligators. The public response was overwhelming, with large increases in visitation and numerous accolades for the facilities and staff. In 2014, the Society provided over $5 million to fund gallery renovations at the Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

The Aquarium Society is consistently ranked among the top zoo/aquarium nonprofits in the U.S. by Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest and most-trusted evaluator of nonprofits. The Aquarium Society makes its privacy policy, audited financial statements, IRS Form 990, Board of Directors’ roster, and key personnel listing available to the public at and

The Aquariums’ enduring success is aided by a dedicated staff, broad support from state leaders, an adoring visiting public, and private funding made available through the Aquarium Society. Those private dollars are now more important than ever, as state appropriations for the Aquariums have shrunk some 35% in recent years. The Society’s enthusiastic base of members, donors and exhibit sponsors are passionate about their Aquariums — and that passion is the key for the Aquariums’ future.

The NC Aquarium Society is a 501c3 charitable organization (Tax ID# 56-1512990) and receives all gifts on behalf of the NC Aquariums and Jennette’s Pier.

The NC Aquariums are a division of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.