The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium will unveil its Eckstein Family Rivers to the Sea Exhibit, Honoring Marquette Transportation Maritime Employees to the public on Friday, March 3. The exhibit features 12 new aquariums, 100 species of marine animals, a model Marshallese outrigger canoe, and interactive areas within the exhibit, all of which draw cultural and conservation connections from America’s major watersheds to the oceans.
Construction began in September 2022 to enhance the visitor experience, replace aging tanks, and provide an opportunity to craft inspiring and relevant conservation messaging as a part of the River Museum’s educational offerings. The River Museum worked with multiple local construction, design, and contract partners to complete the project, and floor to ceiling mural work as well as a life-size sculpture was completed by local artist Adam Eikamp.
Much of the guest-facing and behind the scenes work within Rivers to the Sea was done in house by the River Museum’s Living Collections, Exhibits, Education, and Maintenance teams. The staff handled aquarium design, husbandry, plumbing, and water quality testing.
“I commend our staff’s work throughout this process and am very appreciative of our partner’s and community’s support to bring this exhibit and experience to our visitors,” said President and CEO Kurt Strand. “This exhibit is an amazing opportunity to expand our educational offerings and conservation messaging, incorporate diverse stories into our interpretation and display some really amazing animals.”
The addition of diverse ocean species provide guests the opportunity to learn about marine life they would not normally interact with or have known about. Guests will learn about lionfish, sea horses, octopus and moon jellies, to name a few species. The exhibit will provide immersive interpretive experiences such as a tide pool touch tank, a pop-up bubble in the kelp forest, and deepen the connection guests have already experienced with the Gulf of Mexico aquarium and stingray touch tank.
The exhibit’s message goes deeper into challenges facing the world’s waterways such as climate change, sustainability, and human impact. A Marshallese outrigger canoe built by Chief Iroj Joraur Watak, a leader in the Marshallese community in Dubuque, welcomes guests to the Marshall Islands at the entrance of Rivers to the Sea, highlighting the threat of warming seas on a community seemingly faraway, but yet close to home.
“Connecting our mission to our work and the guest experience is important to our staff,” said Andy Allison, Vice President of Living Collections and Education. “If we don’t understand how our actions here impact far away places, it’s harder to make a difference or be conscious of how to change. Everything we do living on the river impacts the oceans, even though we can’t physically see the oceans from here. I wanted an exhibit that would bring that closer to the front of mind and open the door to make connections.”
The Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting a ribbon cutting for the exhibit on Thursday, March 2. Friday, March 3 will mark the first day the Rivers to the Sea exhibit is open to the public, and the River Museum is hosting a member celebration event in the evening. The exhibit will be available for guests to explore during regular operating hours. For more information on this event and all upcoming events, visit rivermuseum.com/events.