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Virginia CZM Program: 2017 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation

Project Title:

Brainwaves at the Beach: Coastal & Ocean Science Signage

Project Description:

The non-profit Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation (VAQF) partners with the City of Virginia Beach (City) to operate the Aquarium through a public-private partnership. The City is primarily responsible for the site, buildings and infrastructure, while the VAQF develops and owns the exhibits and animal collections, as well as operating many mission-oriented research and conservation programs. The Aquarium’s mission is to inspire conservation of the marine environment through education, research and sustainable practices. A significant component of the mission is to provide educational experiences – exhibits and programs – to more than 650,000 annual Aquarium visitors and more than 17,000 others, primarily students, through outreach programs.

The Aquarium and the VA CZM Program would like to expand the impact of our outreach experiences by developing two new exhibits along the oceanfront in the resort area of Virginia Beach.  These exhibits will help promote the goals of both entities and also the Virginia CZM Program’s recent ocean planning efforts through the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean. This project complements ocean-facing interpretive signage being designed for the Seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore (FY17 Tasks 73.01 and 73.02) under the CZM Program’s 3 year focus on promoting ecotourism.

Virginia Beach’s world-famous “boardwalk” provides access to 40 blocks (3 miles) along the resort beach and hosts more than 2 million people annually (photos below). Signs installed at each block announce where the visitor is and any upcoming events that might be of interest. Artistic and historical sculptures can be found at various points, as well. Families eager for entertainment attend oceanfront concerts, visit museums and duck in and out of the shops and restaurants along the boardwalk.

In 2009, the Aquarium added a small exhibit on the boardwalk under the theme BrainWaves at the Beach. The exhibit (photo above and below) focuses on the topic of marine mammals in Virginia waters, including identification of local species, best ways and seasons to observe them, and information on their threats and conservation needs. The exhibit also incorporates a publicly accessible telescope for observing  marine mammal. The BrainWaves at the Beach concept was always intended to be expanded to incorporate additional exhibits to enhance the boardwalk experience and raise public awareness about important coastal/ocean science and conservation issues.

With over thirty years of experience in developing hands-on exhibits, the Aquarium is uniquely qualified to develop and install new BrainWaves at the Beach exhibits on the Virginia Beach boardwalk. Our staff has the knowledge and experience to design the new exhibits to withstand both high visitor traffic and the outdoor oceanfront environment. The new exhibits will serve as informal education tools that will capture beach-goers’ attention, engage their minds, enhance their visit to Virginia Beach and, most importantly, begin to challenge them to consider the impact of their actions on the coastal and ocean environment. Though final decisions have not been made, potential exhibit topics include:
• Weather, Waves & Climate Change – potentially near designated surfing area
• Submarine Canyon Habitats – highlighting Norfolk Canyon off Virginia Beach
• Marine Debris – sources and solutions
• Ocean Planning – involves shipping, military, commercial fishing, recreation, environment 
• Fishes & Fishing – potentially associated with fishing pier

The Aquarium is proposing to develop two new BrainWaves at the Beach exhibits at the Virginia Beach oceanfront. We plan to utilize the same proven design format that was used for the initial boardwalk exhibit and place the new exhibits in appropriate locations as determined through a formal approval process with the City. We plan to include an interactive element with each exhibit, most likely a telescope, hands-on sculpture or similar component. As with the original exhibit, locations will be carefully coordinated to avoid disturbance of sightlines from existing properties and to maximize exposure for public awareness of the exhibit content. In addition to the new exhibits and as part of this project, the Aquarium will update the information and graphics on the original BrainWaves exhibit on Marine Mammals. Both the City of Virginia Beach and the Resort Advisory Committee approve of the proposed BrainWaves at the Beach exhibits. The Aquarium will collaborate with the Virginia CZM Program on exhibit content.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Mark Swingle, 757.385.0326,

Project Status:

10/15/18 - 12/31/19; Project Open

Final Product:


Project Summary:


Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to or

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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