The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
A Beacon for Coastal Conservation:
The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Destin is much more than your typical aquatic park. Nestled on Miracle Strip Parkway in Ft. Walton Beach, it has grown to become a beacon for coastal conservation and preservation. As one of the longest continuously open aquariums in the state of Florida, it dedicates millions of dollars in support of scientific research as well as conservation, rehabilitation, and educational programs. Unyielding dedication to exceeding the standards of excellence in all aspects of animal care and management has made the Marine Adventure Park a staple in the community.
The Gulfarium is committed to marine rescue and rehabilitation. Its non-profit C.A.R.E. Center functions to accelerate rescue and rehabilitation efforts along the Gulf Coast. C.A.R.E., an acronym for Conserve, Act, Rehabilitate, and Educate, cares for sick and injured sea turtles with the primary goal of reintegrating them back into the wild. Patrick Berry, Gulfarium’s Director, proudly states, “Since 2015, we have rehabilitated and released over 200 sea turtles.” Slated as an endangered species since 1973, sea turtles play an essential role in maintaining the overall health of the ocean.
Recently, the Gulfarium opened their Dune Walk to teach visitors more about the significance of dunes to our coastal ecosystem. Endangered species, including sea turtles and beach mice, nest in dunes making them a fundamental part of our environment. The 551-foot boardwalk wraps around Dune Lagoon and the entire west side of the property. Visitors can now walk around the backside of the alligator habitat for a closer look at these fascinating reptiles. According to Berry, “Dune Walk provides breathtaking views of the Gulf while teaching visitors about the importance of coastal dune lakes and ecosystems.”
The Gulfarium works tirelessly to impact the field of marine care and training positively. They were one of the first aquariums to successfully raise a stranded bottlenose dolphin neonate calf, as well as develop a synthetic milk formula, which is still in use today, to feed bottlenose dolphins. Accredited by the Alliance of Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association, the Gulfarium maintains the highest standards in animal care and training while providing fun and safe, educational experiences for the entire family.
The spectacular aquatic displays of high-jumping dolphins and comedic sea lions are certainly crowd favorites. Currently home to three generations of dolphins, the Gulfarium was the first aquarium to record a dolphin high-jump of 21-feet. The facility was also the “first to perform underwater shows using SCUBA gear as it is known today as opposed to the traditional full-helmet dive gear characteristic of the era.” Throughout the summer, in addition to presentations occurring throughout the day with dolphins and other animals, visitors are welcome to enjoy a live dolphin training demonstration every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 4:00 p.m.
Never short of once-in-a-lifetime adventures, the Gulfarium offers 15 different interactive animal encounters. From short three-minute dockside dolphin feeding experiences to 60-minute snorkeling sessions with stingrays to five-hour VIP Trainer camps where participants work hands-on alongside professional trainers, the Gulfarium provides “unique and memorable experiences for visitors of all ages to connect with marine life.”
The Gulfarium recently welcomed two new African penguin chicks, born through a breeding program with the Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City. Sadly, African penguins have also made their way to the endangered species category. Aquatic trainers conduct regular educational chat sessions to help guests learn more about the different animals and how to protect them.
Many special programs are available at the Gulfarium. The Living Sea room has a full wall of 8-foot high aquarium glass behind which beautiful tropical fish gracefully swim. This room is open to all visitors and is also available for private events including birthday parties, and even weddings! The Living Sea room provides a fantastic backdrop for an evening event.
Gulfarium Proposal Packages are a growing trend. Asking for someone’s hand in marriage is very stressful. Fortunately, there is no right or wrong way to propose as long as it is personal and has meaning. With pre-planning, visitors can pop the big question during a dolphin show, during a dolphin encounter, or with the penguins.
While parents enjoy a night out, Sunset Camp provides an unforgettable evening for children. This program is available on select Tuesday and Thursday evenings between June 6 and the end of summer. Children participate in a dolphin dockside encounter, an evening stroll along the beach, themed activities, a scavenger hunt, and dinner at Seal Harbor.
The Gulfarium is a leader in conservation education as well as professional excellence. As communicated in its mission statement, the Gulfarium is “dedicated to educating, entertaining, and inspiring guests to respect and preserve wildlife by providing unique and memorable experiences for visitors of all ages to connect with marine life.” Berry concludes, “Visitors leave with a new found respect for marine life and knowledge about how they can help preserve the world we live in and the animals we share the world with.” The Earth is something we all have in common. The world is a pretty big place, and there is room for everyone to thrive.
Photography by The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park