Technology aims to enrich Aquarium experience

By on March 26, 2013

An interactive turtle exhibit is already in place.

An interactive turtle exhibit is already in place.

Starting this summer, visitors to the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island will be treated to some new experiences.

And over the next few summers even more is planned to expand the Aquarium’s offerings.

The first will be on the outside of the complex, Exhibits Curator Larry Warner says.

A new 200-foot pier is under construction so visitors can directly interact with the sound waters that border the facility. A new kayak-launching slide has also been installed.

The Osprey nest, an Aquarium favorite that spring and early summer visitors can watch via a video camera as the returning pair and raise their young , will be relocated to improve the fledglings’ survival from a determine local Horned Owl.

In the fall, groundbreaking is scheduled for a new 3,000-square-foot sea turtle rehabilitation building that will allow visitors to view the animals in their rehab tanks.

In addition, as they exit the sea turtle building, visitors will be able to see the staff treat and even operate on sea turtles, plus talk with them, if circumstances allow.

The new addition will be the first renovation since the Aquarium’s expansion in 2000. Support has come from the state and the Aquarium’s non-profit Society, which is supported by individual and corporate donations.

“This facility will certainly put us on the map as the major sea turtle facility from the Virginia state line as far south as Ocracoke Island,” Warner said.

Buster Nunnemaker, the Aquarium’s public relations officer, takes us through a new exhibit. Children are issued a “turtle” before entering the exhibit and will get the chance to experience directly how a sick turtle is diagnosed, treated, maintained, then released back into the wild.

But some of the biggest changes will be coming from the technology side of the spectrum.

Warner explains: “In order to advance education in the way society tends to be leaning, having the ability for people to connect with their iPhones, iPads or other technology is important.”

The aquarium, he said, is getting ready to install WiFi.

Partnering with firms in Greensboro and Cambridge, Mass., the Aquarium will be pushing hard into what Warner refers to as “augmented reality.”

He imagines visitors being able to point their own devices or ones provided by the Aquarium at an exhibit to obtain additional information about what they are viewing.

This information could take the form of additional written information, videos or interactive displays on phones or tablets with touchscreens.

Even “static” displays will sport “QR” codes (similar to a barcode) that could bring up additional information.

A new 200-foot pier is under construction.

A new 200-foot pier is under construction.

Another idea on the horizon is the installation of large touch-screen table where users can access information on a variety of subjects in an interactive manner.

Warner emphasizes that the Aquarium’s primary focus will continue to be on the live specimen exhibits, which they will continue to change to some extent each summer to keep folks coming back for new experiences.

But technology cannot only augment the learning experience from the live exhibits. By merely changing software, return visitors can easily be treated to new interactive learning experiences as well.

Warner is proud of the Aquarium’s dual mission of aiding in the conservation of marine resources-statewide and internationally — as well as educating the public.

The Aquarium staff also takes on extra tasks with the exhibits at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.

Many of these are longer-term projects, including a potential major renovation of the Aquarium. Warner notes that the Roanoke Island campus will be the “pioneering facility” for adopting the new technology, with the state’s other two aquarium sites following Roanoke Island’s lead.

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