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When the Charleston Marine Life Center opens this spring the South Coast will have one more great reason to tell folks: “Come visit!”

The $1 million, 6,000-square-foot aquarium/museum across from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology has been a long time coming. But soon, we’ll have the only facility of its kind on the Southern Oregon coast.

Imagine — a marine mammal gallery with an Orca whale skeleton and a 35-foot-long juvenile California gray whale on display. And more — a sperm whale skull, a hands-on shallow touch tank with starfish, other sea creatures and video displays and computerized touch screens. Artifacts developed in collaboration with local Native American tribes will show the traditional uses of marine resources in the area.

An open-air covered fisheries gallery will let visitors see working fishing boats, with interpretive panels explaining various fisheries processes.

It sounds like our own miniature, ocean-based version of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Quite simply, it sounds like it will be a fun place to spend hours and hours.

And it was mostly donations, large and small, that built it all. There were large donors, like the Ford Family Foundation, Three Rivers Foundation, the Coquille Tribal Community Fund and the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise Lines Ocean Fund, among others. The Oregon Community Foundation and Coos County commissioners also chipped in, along with many individual large and small donations from University of Oregon alumni and local individuals.

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The significance of this accomplishment shouldn’t be lost on us. This new facility is important in a number of ways. For one, the marine center capitalizes a significant characteristic of our very identity — our relationship with the sea. Secondly, the center joins the Coos History Museum, also opening this year, as new jewels to draw the kinds of high-quality visitors we want.

Finally, the marine life center is another example of the kind of development we’ve advocated for a long time — taking advantage of what we have already at hand, right here on the South Coast, to help build a strong, diverse economy, not one that depends on any single industry or enterprise.

We can’t wait for opening day!

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