Owner(s): Jim Bissett Jr. and Petrocelli Construction
Year established: 2000
Location: 431 E. Main St., Riverhead
Phone: 631-208-9200 ext. 426
Number of employees: approx. 20
Where on the North Fork can you go on a shark dive, take a pirate snorkelling adventure or hang out at a sea lion coliseum? Where else but on Riverhead’s otherwise notably unexotic East Main Street — at Atlantis Marine World Aquarium?
Now in its 11th year, the aquarium has been going strong, adding new features and drawing record attendance of more than 300,000 visitors each of the last two years, according to one of the owners, Jim Bissett Jr. The aquarium’s newest and biggest additions, a Hyatt hotel and the Long Island Exhibition Center, are now under construction next door, promising to draw even more people to Riverhead’s downtown.
Back in the mid-1990s, Mr. Bissett, a scuba diver and boater, wondered why a region surrounded “by all this water,” as he put it, had nothing to showcase its connection to the sea. The founder, with his wife Joan, of Bissett Nursery Corp. in Holtsville in 1964, he decided an East End aquarium could draw visitors, and he teamed up with Long Island’s Petrocelli Construction of Ronkonkoma to develop the project.
The aquarium took about five years to make it through the review process before construction began in 1999 on a 3.2 acre parcel on the Peconic River. Atlantis Marine World Aquarium opened a year later, featuring a 120,000 gallon main tank and several side exhibitions that played to the theme of the lost city of Atlantis.
“It’s not a science center,” Mr. Bissett explained. “It has a theatrical theme” that helps make it fun for kids and families. Until recently, marketing was aimed strictly at Nassau and Suffolk counties because of limited hotel space in the area, he said. With the completion of the Hyatt, marketing efforts will be extended into the five boroughs of New York City, he said.
Aquarium visitors can see more than 800 species of fish, visit the largest living coral reef display in the western hemisphere, ride a cage into the shark tank, waddle with penguins, watch sea lions perform, go on a pirate snorkelling adventure and watch river otters play. Boat tours of the Peconic River and Flanders Bay estuary are also offered.
A for-profit enterprise, Atlantis Marine World also books private and corporate events. It offers seating for up to 500 and cuisine prepared “by classically trained chefs,” according to a press release.
In addition, the aquarium is the base of operations for the non-profit Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Education, the state’s only licensed facility for rescuing and treating stranded marine animals.
The aquarium is open all year, every day except Christmas, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit atlantismarineworld.com or call the number listed above.