The new marine conservation center is the first of its kind on the East Coast. Photo: Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Va. Aquarium Opens 1st-of-its-Kind Stranding Response Center

Virginia Beach is now home to a state-of-the-art marine animal conservation center that’s the first of its kind on the East Coast.

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center dedicated the new facility late last week. It supports the animals rescued by the aquarium’s Stranding Response Program.

The Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center (DMACC) honors the Darden family, which contributed significantly to the facility.

Elizabeth D. “Betty” Darden says, “Josh and I always enjoyed the ocean and bay that surrounds Tidewater. Whether boating, sailing, crabbing, or fishing, we were thankful for the clean water and abundant marine life that is unique to our area. We are thrilled to be one small part of helping ensure its long-term survival.”

The new center is the first facility on the East Coast that handles sea turtle and seal rehabilitation and necropsies in one location. It has holding pools and animal care spaces for rehabilitating patients. The office space provides logistical and tech support for the aquarium’s scientists.

The DMACC also has space for research and conservation collaborations with universities and state and federal partners. The aquarium says it’s a big step up from the previous facility, a small, unconditioned workspace near the oceanfront with limited space and resources for the Stranding Response Team to use.

Aquarium President and CEO Cynthia Whitbred-Spanoulis calls the new center “one of the biggest steps for the Virginia Aquarium to be recognized as a world-class marine science research center and to have a worldwide impact on ocean and marine animal conservation.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Darden family was awarded the first ever Virginia Aquarium Conservation Champion award for helping provide the necessary tools to make impactful actions that protect the marine environment.

Anyone can make a gift to the Aquarium Fund to help support the Stranding Response Program’s operations and animal care.

-Meg Walburn Viviano