The Touch Tank and Aquarium at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Kodiak Lab is where kids – and adults – can get their hands on all types of squishy and slimy creatures that live under the sea.
During a normal summer, the tank is open to the public six days a week. It first closed because of the pandemic back in 2020, and the issue hindering its reopening since then has been staffing.
Dave Conrad is the director of the Engineering and Facilities Department with the Kodiak Island Borough. He says he’s fielded calls from many Kodiak residents who’d like to see the tank reopened to the public.
“Borough staff is fully aware and in favor of reopening the facility,” said Conrad.
The facility where the Touch Tank is located is owned by the Kodiak Island Borough – which means the Borough has also funded the Tank’s Interpretive Specialist position since 2017. Funding for the position dried up around the time the pandemic shut down public access to the tank.
The Borough’s budget – which was passed by Assembly members earlier this month for fiscal year 2023 – doesn’t include funds for a Touch Tank staff position. But Conrad said he’s optimistic the tank will reopen on a part-time basis in the coming weeks.
“I am making a presentation to give to the Assembly when that can be scheduled to nail down how we’re funding the position,” he said.
A staff report included in last week’s Assembly Work Session agenda packet included a recommendation to reopen the facility with limited hours of three days per week from 11:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m.
Reopening the Touch Tank was also a high priority for those in attendance during the public hearing portion of last week’s Borough Assembly work session.
Kodiak resident Patrick Cummings was one of several speakers who addressed the Assembly regarding the tank’s closure.
“What’s going on in that tank is meaningful and important,” said Cummings. “And I ask myself, and I hope you guys are asking yourselves the impossible question of how many dollars is that worth to get a kid interested or excited or thrilled about things that are meaningful, significant or important?”
Before the pandemic, 15,000 people visited the Touch Tank at the Kodiak Lab annually, according to NOAA’s website.