Aquarium Gardens

aquariumgardensThe 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

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.

Triangle Pacific Mill in the mid-1950s

Triangle Pacific Mill in the mid-1950s is the site the Oregon Coast Aquarium was built on.

A Pioneer in “Naturescaping”

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.

1992 opening day aerial view of the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

1992 opening day aerial view of the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

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.

What lives here?

American Crow

American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. Also known as the “common crow,” these birds exists in one form or another on every continent except South America.
American Robin

American Robin

Turdus migratorius

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. Often referred to as “robin red-breast,” this bird is as distinctive for its coloring as it is for this cheery song.
Black Tail Deer

Black Tail Deer

Odocoileus hemionus

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. Occasionally large mammals join the smaller species for a visit to the Aquarium grounds.
California Ground Squirrel

California Ground Squirrel

Otospermophilus beecheyi

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. These small mammals can be found throughout the forests of the Pacific Northwest. They look very similar to other squirrel species with a slender body and bushy tail.
Common Garden Snail

Common Garden Snail

Helix aspersa

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. Meet Helix aspersa, otherwise known as the common garden snail.
Douglas' Squirrel

Douglas’ Squirrel

Tamiasciurus douglasii

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that may be seen along the Oregon Coast. These lively pine squirrels can be found all along the Oregon coast. They are active during the day and will often be encountered by hikers or campers.
GreatBlueHeron3

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. Great Blue Herons are common to the Aquarium grounds but may be challenging for visitors to spot. Generally, this large bird prefers to hang around the old log pond which is visible from the pathway which connects the parking lot with the main entrance.
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Hermit Thrush

Catharus guttatus

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. This tiny (6.5 to 7.5 inches in length), beautifully-colored bird is common along the woods, forests and ocean shores of the Pacific Northwest.
Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Larus argentatus

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. There are several forms of gull along the Pacific coast of North America which look very similar and are often difficult to distinguish from each other.
Oregon Grape

Oregon Grape

Mahonia aquifolium

This attractive evergreen shrub grows wild throughout Oregon and is cultivated as a decorative plant in urban areas where it will attract birds, bees and butterflies. It has a low profile, rarely growing taller than 10 feet (3 m) and forming irregular, often scraggly-looking clumps.
Raccoon

Raccoon

Procyon lotor

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. A ubiquitous species throughout the forests of North America, the raccoon is a frequent visitor and sometimes tenant at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
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Rough-skinned Newt

Taricha granulosa

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit. It's a wild species which can be found living wild on the Aquarium grounds. It is included here as part of the Aquarium's broad mission to educate about the entirety of the Oregon coastline. Newts are a type of salamander, but are differentiated by rougher skin and flat (rather than round) tails. These amphibians spend their adult lives on land, returning to water only to breed.
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Salmonberry

Robus spectabilis

The Salmonberry is a common, perennial plant which can be easily found all along the Oregon Coast and adjacent areas. The plant grows along a rhizome, or an underground stem which runs horizontal to the ground and continually puts out new shoots and roots.
White Crowned Sparrow

White Crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. A delicate and beautiful songbird, the White Crowned Sparrow is a favorite with bird watchers all along the Oregon Coast. The bird’s most striking feature is the black and white stripes along the head.
Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Ceryle alcyon

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives along the Estuary Trail at the edge of the Yaquina Bay. These small, beautiful birds are commonly spotted around the Yaquina Bay during the winter months. About the size of a pigeon, the Belted Kingfisher can be easily identified by the brush-like crest on the top of its head.
Pelicans4

Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives along the Estuary Trail at the edge of the Yaquina Bay. With the possible exception of the sea gull, there are few birds outside of the pelican that are more closely associated with the coast, harbors and bays.
Common Raven

Common Raven

Corvus corax

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives along the Estuary Trail at the edge of the Yaquina Bay. This large omnivorous bird is commonplace all over North American and, like the coyote and rat, has lived close to human settlements throughout history.
Nothern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. It is estimated that this beautiful woodpecker has over one hundred common names, although it is most often known as a “Red-shafted Flicker” to differentiate it from the Eastern or “Yellow-shafted Flicker” that lives in the eastern part of North America.
Opossum

Opossum

Didelphis virginiana

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that may be seen along the Oregon Coast. A species native to eastern North America, Opossums (sometimes just called possums) arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the early twentieth century.
osprey

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives along the Estuary Trail at the edge of the Yaquina Bay. Also known as a “fish hawk,” the Osprey is a beautiful and fascinating raptor.
PeregrineFalcon2

Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrinus

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. The Peregrine Falcon is one of the smaller raptor species on the Oregon coast. This striking bird is approximately the same size as an American Crow with a dark gray back, a tawny colored belly separated by white lines, and a yellow beak and talons.
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Porcupine

Ezethizon dorsatum

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives along the Estuary Trail or in the Coastal Mountain area. The porcupine is a large rodent indigenous to the forest and woodlands of Oregon. Aside from the American Beaver, it is the largest rodent on the North American continent.
Red Tailed Hawk 2

Red-Tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives along the Estuary Trail or in the Coastal Mountain area. The Red-Tailed Hawk is a common bird throughout the Americas. Highly adaptable, they can roost in a variety of places including crowded urban centers despite being shy around humans.
Rufous Sided Towhee

Rufous-Sided Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a native species that lives on or regularly visits the extensive gardens or wooded areas of the property. Towhees are an extremely widespread bird species and can be found all over the continental United States and Canada.
Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Melanitta perspicillata

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that lives along the Estuary Trail at the edge of the Yaquina Bay. These beautiful sea ducks breed in Alaska and Canada, but can often be found in Oregon during the winter months where the weather is more temperate.
VaryingHare

Varying Hare

Lepus americanus

The Varying Hare is one of three species (Black-tailed Jackrabbit and Brush Rabbit are the others) common to the Oregon Coast and Coast Range Mountains. It has a small head and ears, but comparatively large feet.
AmericanBeachGrass2

American Beach Grass

Ammophila breviligulata

This plant is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species which lives in on the sandy shores of Oregon. It is included here as part of the Aquarium's broad mission to educate about the entirety of the Oregon coastline.
EuropeanBeachGrass3

European Beach Grass

Ammophila arenaria

This plant is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species which lives in on the sandy shores of Oregon. It is included here as part of the Aquarium's broad mission to educate about the entirety of the Oregon coastline.
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Bull Kelp

Nereocystis luetkeana

Bull Kelp are the dominant species in offshore kelp forests along the Oregon Coast as this species prefers colder water with a temperature range of 39° to 59° F (3.9–15°C).