Blog : Blue Ocean’s Discovery Center Enjoys Tidal Wave of Success in First Year

By Anna | Sep 23, 2014 | in

By Kristyn Lak Miller

“What’s this?” asked two-year-old Emmett, pointing excitedly at a crab. In quick succession, he asked the same question of a sea star, a horseshoe crab, a hermit crab, seaweed, and even a big rock. Emmett was standing on his tiptoes in front of a touch tank at the Blue Ocean Discovery Center, just beyond the waves on Hampton Beach. If the lights overhead went out, it’s a sure bet his ear-to-ear grin would have lit up the entire room.

Run by the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation — a local non-profit organization that protects marine animals in the Gulf of Maine through education, research, and conservation — the Blue Ocean Discovery Center’s mission is to provide a family-friendly attraction where visitors learn about marine life, local and maritime history, and the action they can take to protect the marine environment.

More than 21,000 people have visited the Blue Ocean Discovery Center since it opened on June 29, 2013, with attendance rates three times higher during the summer of 2014 than the same time the previous year. Located at 170 Ocean Boulevard — slightly north of the Sea Shell Stage — admission is only $1 for anyone over the age of two (those younger are free) and the small space is bright and welcoming. “We have something for everyone, from toddlers to senior citizens,” said Jen Kennedy, Executive Director. “Our exhibits are engaging for every age group. And our educators have a wealth of information on marine biology, the local marine environment, and the local area.”

At the center, children and adults are invited to see, gently hold, and interact with live marine creatures from the Gulf of Maine, complete a take-home craft, participate in a scavenger hunt, and learn lessons from Mother Earth herself, like why it’s important to keep small plastic bags and balloons out of the ocean (one reason is that leatherback turtles eat jellyfish, and can choke on plastic bags and balloons that are easily mistaken for a meal). With marine-themed toys, books, and artifacts, not to mention the perennially popular touch tanks, the center is also a perfect place to host a birthday party.

The Blue Ocean society partners with The Green Alliance, a union of sustainable local businesses and non-profits. In addition to running the Blue Ocean Discovery Center, the Blue Ocean Society conducts year-round research on local marine wildlife, in the name of education and environmental protection.

In the fall, the center is open Fridays through Sundays, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. until Columbus Day weekend. Year-round, it hosts story time every Friday at 10:30 a.m. In the summer (late June through early September), the center is open daily, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Beyond the center, marine enthusiasts can get their hands dirty (or wet) with programs run by the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, like beach clean-ups, whale watches, and derelict fishing gear-finding missions (which use sonar equipment to locate lost lobster traps). Those looking for an internship or volunteer opportunities can find more information, and an application, at www.blueoceansociety.org. In addition, the center operates a traveling program including its new inflatable whale, Ladder, which reaches an impressive 65 feet in length. The program visits any facility with the space and the interest in a high-quality, interactive educational program.

“It took a huge amount of planning to get through the proposal process and get the center open,” said Kennedy. “My favorite moment was realizing we had hit 20,000 visitors and seeing the great response from visitors. We would like to grow into a bigger space, and to provide a year-round presence there.”

Green Alliance Members receive FREE admission to the Blue Ocean Discovery Center! Also save 10% on all items in Blue Ocean Society's online store (enter the promo code GA10). Not a member? Join here!