Aquarium Gardens

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is well known for its extraordinary exhibit galleries and outdoor habitats, but just as important to the visitor’s experience are our beautiful grounds and gardens. Carefully and intricately designed to emulate a natural environment from the moment you cross the Aquarium’s threshold, the grounds are a vital part of the visitor’s experience.

As you enter our main gate, you will meander down a winding path and across a trickling forest creek. Red Alder,  Creek Dogwood and towering Big Leaf maple trees cast long shadows across a small bridge ahead. As you pause on the bridge, you can see a small beaver dam with a tranquil saltwater marsh beyond the trees. For a moment, you may feel like this is how the Oregon coast must have looked prior to the large-scale arrival of Europeans hundreds of years ago.

And you would be right.

Reclaiming the Land

This aerial view of the Aquarium grounds from 1992 shows the early efforts to reclaim the land through naturalistic landscaping. The 40 acres on which the Aquarium now sits did not always look this way. Before the Aquarium’s construction in the early 1990s, the southern end of the Yaquina Bay had been turned into a dumping ground by local industry. Native vegetation was sparse and most of the birds and mammals had been chased away either through loss of habitat or the incessant running of off-road vehicles through the nearby dunes. The scattered and crumbling remains of a lumber mill hearkened back to another era, but were now little more than a hazardous eyesore. Before they could build the Aquarium, engineers and staff personnel first had to reinvent it. Using all local materials, new dunes and berms were created and planted with vegetation specifically chosen for its historical importance to the area. A careful eye was given to irrigation and drainage needs so paths or buildings would not flood. The log pond from the old lumber mill was allowed to “go wild,” becoming a beautiful wetland for migratory birds. The entire north end of the property was reserved for a nature trail – a unique feature for an aquarium – as it skirted the natural estuary and had an amazing view of the bay and Newport. This construction process took two years to complete; and now twenty years later, with the vegetation fully grown, it is almost indistinguishable from a natural coastal forest. The Aquarium gardens feature over one hundred plant species, creating a lush and ever-changing natural environment for our visitors to enjoy and contemplate.

A Pioneer in “Naturescaping”

Naturescaping required more than just planting native trees and shrubs.  It entailed the actual reshaping of the land to create natural hills, berms, glens and drainage. The process used to reclaim the land on which the Aquarium sits is called “naturescaping,” or landscaping with native plant life. Planting native trees, shrubs, ferns and perennials creates habitat that attracts and supports native wildlife. In fact, the Aquarium has been so successful at “naturescaping” that in 2007 it became a certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. So if you keep a sharp eye open, you might see animals that are not part of an Aquarium exhibit but still use or even live on the property. This includes mammals like deer, coyotes, mink, weasels, meadow voles, moles, squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons. The number and variety of birds seen in the gardens is even broader and includes hawks, Bald eagles, turkey vultures, falcons, merlins, sparrows, juncos, heron, kingfishers and hummingbirds. 

The Aquarium’s Commitment to Conservation

The Aquarium’s effort to improve the natural environment for the use and enjoyment of all is an ongoing process. One of our more recent endeavors was the installation of two 45-foot tall osprey perches at the edge of the estuary. Ospreys are an important species on the Oregon coast, but habitat destruction has caused many of them to roost in dangerous areas including on power poles or lamp posts in highly populated areas. The perches have been used by Ospreys, Red-Shouldered and Red-Tailed Hawks, Common Ravens, Belted Kingfishers and Bald Eagles.