Jay Barnes announces retirement from North Carolina Aquarium Society

Published 2:50 pm Thursday, August 11, 2022

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Following a 40-year career with the North Carolina Aquariums, including 20 years as director of the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the past four years as president and CEO of the North Carolina Aquarium Society, Jay Barnes has announced his plan to retire early next year.

North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Reid Wilson remarked: “Over the last four decades, Jay Barnes has played an instrumental role in transforming our three North Carolina Aquariums and Jennette’s Pier into world-class facilities for visitors and researchers. On behalf of the state, I thank Jay for his outstanding service and wish him all the best as he embarks on his next seaworthy adventure.”

Barnes began his career with the NC Aquariums in 1980 as exhibits curator at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, then called the North Carolina Marine Resources Center. He was one of only seven employees at the time.

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In 1986, Barnes moved to the Division Office in Raleigh to work as exhibits consultant for the three newly named NC Aquariums.

He returned to Pine Knoll Shores as director in 1989, then transitioned to director of development of the NC Aquarium Society in Raleigh in 2009.

Barnes became president and CEO of the Society in 2018, where he has led overall revenue growth of 38 percent and raised over $15 million through fundraising efforts to support the NC Aquariums during his tenure.

In a letter to his staff announcing his retirement, Barnes said: “Over the years I’ve been extremely fortunate to have witnessed the evolution of the Aquariums as institutions and have had the pleasure of working with so many great people on exciting and rewarding ventures.”

The NC Aquariums Division is an agency of the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural resources and includes four facilities: three aquariums located at Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Fisher and Roanoke Island, as well as Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. Together, they attract more than 1.3 million visitors annually.

Founded in 1986, the NC Aquarium Society was formed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit support organization to assist the aquariums in the fulfillment of their mission “to inspire appreciation and conservation of our aquatic environments.”

“Jay has been an incredible leader for the Aquariums and the Aquarium Society since he joined the Aquariums in 1980,” said North Carolina Aquarium Society Board of Directors Chair Hope Williams. “He was an innovative Director of the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and he navigated the Society Board and staff through the challenges of the pandemic. Jay has had a tremendous career with and on behalf of the Aquariums and the Pier and we celebrate him and all he has contributed as he moves toward retirement.”

North Carolina Aquariums division director Maylon White added: “The Aquarium Division’s relationship with the Society has never been stronger. We attribute that to Jay’s leadership and willingness to support us in so many ways. We wish him the best in well-deserved retirement.”

Barnes is a graduate of NC State University’s College of Design and holds a master’s degree in advertising from Syracuse University.

As an accomplished hurricane historian, Barnes lectures widely on U.S. hurricanes and has appeared in various national media productions, including The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, TLC, MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, BBC and NPR.

His books include North Carolina’s Hurricane History; Florida’s Hurricane History; Faces from the Flood: Hurricane Floyd Remembered and his most recent: Fifteen Hurricanes That Changed the Carolinas: Powerful Storms, Climate Change and What We Do Next, published by UNC Press in June 2022.

Barnes frequently contributes to popular regional and national periodicalsincluding Our State, Wildlife in NC, Carolina Country, North State Journal, Weatherwise and Florida Naturalist.

In 2009, Barnes was honored with The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest award for state service granted by the NC Office of the Governor.

Barnes plans to use this next chapter to spend more time with family and pursue his many interests.