Going with the Flow


The Aquarium of Boise begins a new chapter

By Chelsea Chambers, photography by Mark Dyrud

The Aquarium of Boise is the first business of its kind in Idaho and has quickly become an integral part of the community. Moving past previous highly-publicized struggles, the aquarium’s new board of directors is determined to make this non-profit a success. In November 2013, Joni Sullivan and Nancy Vannorsdel set out to rebuild the aquarium and rehabilitate its reputation. When asked how difficult that effort was, Sullivan responded, “It’s easy to start from zero and build from that, but we were starting at 140 feet below.”

Fortunately for Boise, Vannorsdel and Sullivan were able to restore the aquarium’s reputation, and it now boasts a wide array of over 320 different species and 6,000 animals, all housed in over 45,000 gallons of water. Vannorsdel and Sullivan, Aquarium--0001accompanied by the hardworking staff and volunteers, fought hard to save these animals for the community. The organization is now classified as a 501(c)3 non-profit, which allows it to be operated by a board of directors and financially supported by the community. The aquarium is funded solely by admissions, donations, grants, gift shop, and season pass sales. Although it costs thousands of dollars each day to keep the aquarium’s exhibits running, the benefits to the community greatly outweigh the costs, as evidenced by the smiling faces of children and families learning alongside one another.

The Aquarium of Boise’s mission is “to educate and inspire the conservation and enhancement of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems through hands-on interaction.” Nathan Hall, Head Biologist, who has been with the organization since 2007, is one of the many devoted staff-members who spend their days protecting the livelihood of the animals and helping to grow the programs the aquarium offers. He helps lead the Streams to Sea Program in partnership with the Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center, in which students and teachers can learn the impact of river life on the oceans and how everything combines into one flowing ecosystem.

Many exhibits allow attendees to be physically part of the animals’ daily lives by interacting with their feeding schedules and touching the animals, gently of course, in their habitats. One of our personal favorite programs was the shark egg incubation. Teachers apply to a lengthy waiting list for the shark eggs. After mating season, Hall takes the eggs to classrooms and teaches students how to properly care for and incubate them. This interactive style of learning provides a memorable education experience as students learn by engaging and independently housing a shark egg. They witness science firsthand as they watch the baby shark grow and hatch.

The aquarium is part of a larger Boise education system that allows the many nature centers, the Boise WaterShed, Zoo Boise, Aquarium--0003and M.K. Nature Center to carry out education programs geared toward Common Core standards of academic progression. Together they’ve created many programs that make science exciting and unforgettable for students of all ages. These organizations offer volunteer programs and internships for both high school and college students.

At only $10 for daily admission, Aquarium of Boise is affordable and educational for people of any age. They are also offering season passes for 50% off during the months of November and December only, a perfect holiday gift that can inspire children for an entire year. With a season pass, the entire family can visit the aquarium all year long and watch the growth and development of these aquatic animals that can’t be found anywhere else in Boise.