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Greenport’s Seaport Museum’s ‘Sea Life Exhibit’ set to reopen

In March 2021, as members of the staff at the East End Seaport Museum in Greenport were refilling the large aquarium that is a highlight of the museum’s exhibits, the unthinkable happened: a seam in the glass cracked open and 700 gallons of salt water spilled out onto the old wood floors.

“I went into utter shock,” said Tracey Orlando, the museum’s executive director. “Thankfully, there were no fish in it at the time, but we were so worried about the water on the floors doing real damage to the museum.”

On Thursday, May 25, in a ceremony from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the museum will showcase its brand-new Sea Life Exhibit, a large glass aquarium that will hold 800 gallons of salt water and be the home of aquatic species found in local waters.

“This will be wonderful for school children to come in and see in the aquarium what is found right here in the bay,” Ms. Orlando said. “It will be a real educational experience.”

On a recent morning, she stood in the sun-filled museum, which was once a Long Island Rail Road station and ticket booth. All around her were the museum’s models, photographs and posters highlighting the region’s extraordinary maritime heritage. 

Outside, lined up along the railroad dock, a half-dozen commercial fishing boats were tied up, with workers on one of them making needed welding repairs and offloading used ice. The boats’ presence, just behind the museum dedicated to the village’s maritime past, evoked images of Greenport’s waterfront history, when whaling vessels once docked there.

The East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation recently announced that it had been awarded a $50,000 grant for the total replacement of the Sea Life Exhibit. The grant came from the David Lion Gardiner Foundation and its executive director, Kathryn Curran.

Ms. Orlando said the Gardiner Foundation’s donation was a matching grant. “We had to match that,” she said. “And we did, along with donations from the community and an anonymous grant. This allowed the exhibit to be restored, but also [for] work to be completed on the mezzanine above it.”

The aquarium had been a feature at the museum for some 30 years, with seasonal draining required, before the tank broke two years ago.

“Our main worry was damage to the floor, so a great deal of mitigation was required, which was expensive,” Ms. Orlando added. “An engineer showed us things that had to be improved on structurally, so the fundraising was very critical.”

On a recent sunny morning, Ms. Orlando showed a visitor the work in progress. “Just filling it with local specimens will educate all our visitors about the waters around us,” she said. “They can learn about our fish and when they migrate. It will be wonderful to have it up and running again.”