The return on investment in a new public aquarium goes well beyond the financial rewards for investors. This article highlights the top seven benefits delivered by aquariums to wide-ranging stakeholders.


You find a turtle on a beach with lacerations on its legs caused by fishing nets. What do you do?

No doubt your local vet would eagerly lend a hand. Even so, the best option for the turtle – and most other marine species – would be the skills, advanced facilities and specialist care found only at public aquariums.

Sea TurtleMany new aquariums feature dedicated animal rescue and care facilities from day one.

In recent years, as the industry evolves and expands its remit, older aquariums have added rescue and rehab services too.

Unsurprisingly, rescue and rehabilitation resources must match the species found locally. Since animal populations vary from place to place, new aquarium designers should consult with experts when considering which animal-care facilities are most likely to be needed.


Researching wild animals in their natural habitats is ideal. However, in the case of marine species, field-studies can be too expensive, impractical or even impossible.

Scientists increasingly recognise that aquariums provide straightforward access to living species for meaningful research projects that, in turn, aid animal health, wellbeing and conservation.

Many aquariums fund or participate in collaborative research programmes or make facilities available to independent researchers from accredited institutions such as universities. Indeed, aquariums increasingly give research a prominent role in their mission statements.

In their book, Scientific Foundations of Zoos and Aquariums: Their Role in Conservation and Research (2019), the authors1 highlight a wide range of study areas for zoos and aquariums including but not limited to anatomy and physiology, cognitive ability and behaviour, disease, pathology, veterinary care, mortality, growth and development, nutrition, diet, breeding and reintroduction.

Many of these topics play a direct role in supporting conservation.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – which represents 240 AZA-accredited mainly US-based zoos and aquariums, reports2:

“In 2018, 160 AZA-accredited and certified related facilities reported spending approximately $25.1 million on research efforts that impacted nearly 600 species and subspecies.”


Urbanisation and modern lifestyles limit our access to natural habitats, where we can observe and experience wild flora and fauna. Society is disconnecting from nature.

Aquariums can help.

More than merely animal viewing areas, aquarium exhibits simulate the aesthetics, features and functionality of natural habitats. Phenomenal attention to detail in exhibit design and modern construction techniques is not just for show – it supports the health and wellbeing of the animals.

While nothing beats the real thing, a trip to an aquarium reminds us of the beauty – and fragility – of nature. By reawakening the bond with natural habitats, people are more motivated to support conservation, such as by reducing the use of plastics that pollute oceans and destroy marine life.Manta Ray Swimming Aat

Beyond support for scientific research projects, aquariums’ most significant contribution to conservation is the sheer number of people passing through them. Touched by what they saw and experienced, many visitors resolve to support natural habitats more actively, afterwards.

Aquariums provide many opportunities for formal educational services too.

With the perfect combination of excitement, drama and structured educational content, aquariums make outstanding day-trips for school children of all ages.

Members of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) –  which represents over 100 zoos and aquariums – hosted 1.2 million educational visits3 in 2019.

Large acrylic tunnels and dramatic architecture create inspiring and attractive event spaces for conservation experts to provide informative talks to fee-paying adults, too.


Everyone needs some fun, especially families with children. That is why aquariums are installing more and more of the digital, creative and immersive experiences that modern visitors love. These include:

  • Partially submerged viewing and feeding platforms with unprecedented views of large animals swimming around the main tank, such as at the Dubai Mall Aquarium.
  • Scuba-diving opportunities, including courses with qualified trainers.
  • Ever richer digital-interactive displays
  • Breathtaking theme-designs and creative experiences
Crocosaurus Cove Darwin Australia01
Swim-cages that give thrill-seekers a chance to get up-close-and-personal, safely, with crocodiles and other threatening species

50% of adults visiting an aquarium are accompanied by a child, according to AZA4. Innovative, fun-filled experiences add excitement and action to their trip. In turn, these experiences increase the value aquariums deliver to local communities and tourists looking for constructive and fun things-to-do.


With their unique combination of scale, architecture, exhibits and experiences, aquariums attract tourists to cities and keep them there longer.

Nearly 90 percent of visitors to The National Aquarium, about 65 km North-East of Washington DC, report that the aquarium is their primary reason for visiting Baltimore. It typically attracts more than 1.3 million visitors each year.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) – which represents nearly 400 leading institutions and organisations from more than 50 countries – estimates5 that Zoos and Aquariums attract some 700 million visitors annually.

Baltimore’s situation may be an extreme version of the popularity of aquariums. In other destinations, a new aquarium might round out, update and strengthen a broad portfolio of existing attractions, igniting a new wave of interest in visiting. A gorgeous new aquarium could be the cherry on top of the cake.


Many cities have run-down neighbourhoods and derelict land such as abandoned industrial areas that came out on the wrong side of change long ago. Aquariums have a significant physical footprint and wide-reaching economic impact. It’s a match made in heaven.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA)…estimates that Zoos and Aquariums attract some 700 million visitors annually.

Urban areas in need of rehabilitation with good access to transportation corridors can make excellent candidates for a new aquarium feasibility study. If validated, building an aquarium could transform ugly sore-spots into spectacular, award-winning architecture and create dozens or even hundreds of jobs in the area.


Aquariums produce direct and indirect forms of economic activity.

The direct economic activity includes the money that aquariums spend on the goods and services they need. The indirect economic activity includes the positive impact that an aquarium has on other businesses – such as hotels, restaurants and shops nearby. Economic activity also raises extra taxes for Cities and States too.

BIAZA estimates4 that the annual value of its members’ economic yearly activity is £658 million. That’s a lot of money. They also employ 11,000 workers (plus 4,700 volunteers).

Baltimore’s National Aquarium “supports more than $9 million in annual tax revenue for the City of Baltimore and more than $20 million for the State of Maryland7“. 400 km away, the Virginia Aquarium reports8 that with an operating budget of only $14 million, it supports more than $257 million in annual economic activity in Virginia Beach and over $276 million Statewide.


Successful aquariums raise sufficient revenues to cover their costs, but the role they play goes far beyond profit-generation.

Aquariums, like zoos, provide fun-filled leisure and entertainment activities that double-up as centres for animal rescue, care and rehabilitation, scientific research, education and conservation.

Along the way, aquariums rejuvenate urban landscapes, enliven destination-brands, attract tourists, create jobs, and boost economic activity.

They are becoming, perhaps, one of the best examples of a “purpose-driven businesses”.

Successful aquariums raise sufficient revenues to cover their costs, but the role they play goes far beyond profit-generation.


A study conducted at the United Kingdom’s National Marine Aquarium9 concluded that watching animals in an aquarium delivers psychological and physiological benefits. In other words, a trip to an aquarium can help you chill-out, too. So if you need to relax, go watch some fish!

Need help with new aquarium feasibility or concept development? Contact AAT.


1. Kaufman, A.B., Bashaw, M.J. and Maple, T.L. eds., 2019. Scientific foundations of zoos and aquariums: Their role in conservation and research. Cambridge University Press.

2. 2020. Research and Science . [ONLINE] Available at:

3 BIAZA reveals the economic impact of member zoo and aquariums | Biaza

4. Visitor Demographics


6. BIAZA reveals the economic impact of member zoo and aquariums | Biaza

7. National Aquarium | Economic Impact Report 2017


9. Cracknell, D., White, M.P., Pahl, S., Nichols, W.J. and Depledge, M.H., 2016. Marine biota and psychological well-being: a preliminary examination of dose–response effects in an aquarium setting. Environment and Behavior, 48(10), pp.1242-1269.



The information in this article is general in nature and does not constitute professional advice and is not intended to be a substitute for such advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should consider whether the information is appropriate for your needs. The article and any associated content published are bound by the terms and conditions of use. The terms and conditions of use of AAT’s website can be found here.