Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Aquarium Story

Why is the Aquarium located in Pine Knoll Shores and not at what would seemingly be a more reasonable and perhaps more obvious location such as Morehead City, Beaufort, Harkers Island or Fort Macon?  Answering that question takes us back many years and involves the Roosevelts, the emerging community of PKS and an ongoing concern for the environment.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores had its beginning in the 1960s. A group of concerned Carteret County citizens came together to build upon the many marine-related activities in the county. These activities, some dating back centuries, included boat building; commercial fishing; seafood processing and seafood restaurants; marine education, research and exploration; weather studies; boating; and various water-related recreational activities. 

The first formal marine-science group in the area was organized as a result of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which awarded grants to innovative projects in education. A grant from this act allowed Carteret County to hire Mr. Will Hon to head a County Marine Science Program. The program’s initial focus was education, and they produced course curriculum to provide students the background to succeed in marine-related industries as well as general marine educational literature and speakers. 

By the late 1960s, the mission and make-up of the group had expanded to include marine-related interests beyond education. [i] 

The expanded group called Carteret Marine Science Council worked as a board of directors for Mr. Hon’s project, which was now called the Regional Marine Science Project. These efforts fueled a desire to have a facility dedicated to educating residents and visitors about the sea around us.

The Marine Science Council produced an organizational concept and architectural rendering of an educational facility in the late 1960s. It was named SeaLab and was to be located in Morehead City on vacant land across from the hospital, the current site of Carteret County’s Visitors Center and, much earlier, the site of Camp Glenn[ii]. (See location at bottom of post)
Conceptually, the notion of such a facility was positively received, but the proposed site was considered confining and inadequate for the anticipated number of visitors. The members of the Roosevelt Trust, being concerned about environmentally respectful coastal development and marine sciences education, in 1971, donated 292 acres in Pine Knoll Shores to the State of North Carolina for a nature preserve with the stipulation that 25 acres would be used for marine education[iii]. The road entrance to this parcel is on Pine Knoll Blvd. Adding to the attractiveness of this mid-island location was the possibility of a third bridge crossing the sound.  During the 1960s and early 1970s active planning was on-going for a bridge from Pine Knoll Blvd, then called Bridge St, linking to the mainland near Spooners Creek.

This marked the second time the Roosevelts were instrumental in the formation of an important cultural institution in Carteret County. In 1900, President Teddy Roosevelt had signed an act that led to the Marine Lab on Pivers Island[iv]

In 1976, the state opened the Marine Resource Center on the land in Pine Knoll Shores, and in 1986, the Center’s name was changed to The NC Aquarium at PKS. A major rebuild and expansion of this facility was completed in 2006.

Post Author: Walt Zaenker revised 3/4/14
To contact the author or the History Committee

[i] The 1950’s and 1960’s were a period in the United States that was greatly influenced by the extensive writings of the marine biologists and environmentalist Rachel Carson.  Her essays and articles appeared in many periodicals, both popular and scholarly.  Her books ‘The Edge of the Sea’, ‘The Sea Around Us’, and ‘Silent Spring’, were professionally acclaimed and enjoyed much success on the bestseller list. In Carteret County the establishment of the Rachel Carson Coastal Reserve, located across Taylor Creek from down town Beaufort, NC celebrates her contributions.
[ii] The North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program,
[iii] In a letter of May 12 1971 to Tony Seamon (owner Sanitary Fish market) Theodore Roosevelt III said in discussing the land gift ‘we have been anxious to do something of this nature for a long time…in reading about the various programs available for children. . .Carteret County would seem to be far ahead of other areas in this type of estuarine ecological education.”
[iv] Beaufort, North Carolina History

other sources:
The News-Times, Morehead City and Beaufort, NC, October 21, 1966

The Carteret Marine Science Council presentation on SeaLab, 1970
The staff at the MC Aquarium at PKS, in particular Sherry White