The OCC Dennis Kelly Aquarium has been a peaceful oasis and a source of wonder for students, staff, faculty, and the local community since 1974. Our student-run facility has created a dynamic learning experience where students can discover the oceans and foster a love for science.

Visitors come to the aquarium to relax, enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, and marvel at the diverse marine organisms on display. Whether it's the vibrant fish, intricate coral formations, or mysterious creatures of the deep, there's always something new to discover.

Through open hours and tours, the aquarium offers a unique opportunity for the public to better understand and appreciate the local marine habitat. Our outreach programs also play a critical role in educating the public about marine conservation and environmental sustainability.

Since its establishment, the aquarium has been a vital part of the marine science program at Orange Coast College. While it was originally designed as a training ground for marine science majors, today, hundreds of students from all disciplines utilize the aquarium indirectly, benefiting from the rich learning experience it provides.

As we celebrate 50 years of the OCC Dennis Kelly Aquarium, we are proud of the impact we have made on the lives of our students and the broader community. Looking to the future, we are committed to expanding our research programs, developing new educational initiatives, and further engaging with our community to continue fostering a love for science and conservation.

Here's to many more years of learning, discovery, and conservation at the OCC Dennis Kelly Aquarium!

Aquarium Open House

On Saturday, April 29, 2023, the OCC Aquarium celebrated its 50th anniversary with a community event to showcase the the amazing work of the student aquarium managers. Aquarium and aquaponics greenhouse tours, touch tanks, planetarium reef shows, educational displays, kids games, a raffle, and booths from many of the surrounding marine conservation and education organizations helped make the event a fun-filled day for everyone. In the future, we hope to make this open house an annual event that invites interested potential students and community members to learn more about the aquarium science program.

Anniversary Event Photos

Explore the Aquarium History

  1. 1969

    Students were able to view local species that were on display. The aquarium was designed in partnership with BlueRock.

    Two people admiring aquariums from outside, 1969.

  2. 1974

    Dennis Kelly became the 1st director of the aquarium. The aquarium was called OCC Public Aquarium, "A Window By The Sea".

    Student pipetting aquarium water into test tube, 1974.

  3. 1989 - 1991

    Aquarium was in danger!! Exhibits started to be emptied as funding was starting to dwindle.

    Two students cleaning aquariums, standing on step stools, 1987
    Student with red backpack observing aquariums outside, 1984.
  4. 1992

    Bleak future as the aquarium loses funding despite being the largest public coldwater aquarium in Orange County.

  5. 1993

    Aquarium featured in the L.A. Times. Public fundraiser to help collect funds and rescue the aquarium from closure. Goodyear Blimp offered the top raffle prize of a whale-watching experience in the blimp. The aquarium total gallons = 1,000. Marine aquarium management classes first started.

  6. 1998

    AOP opened and our aquarium rededicated itself to offer the best training for undergraduates. Aquariums is 10 years old now!

    Two students sitting on top of desks in a classroom with an aquarium behind them at the front of the classroom, 1996.

  7. 1999

    Aquarium starts to host open houses during the summer to give back to the community. Also hosted summer science camps.

  8. 2001

    Held open house and fundraiser event for aquarium and New York Red Cross. Aquarium=2,480 gallons (12 Exhibits)

  9. 2003/2004

    Aquarium Procedure manual created.

  10. 2006

    Fundraiser at campus and LA harbor. Ocean literary lectures and tours of AOP.

  11. 2008

    Aquarium moves to the Lewis center.

  12. 2013

    Dennis retires and Rob Ellis becomes the new director. 2 Exhibits in the Lobby: Tropical Reef Exhibit donated by CSULB and a Hexagonal exhibit. Aquarium=2,500 gallons.

    A student inside of hexagon exhibit preparing for repairment, 2013

  13. 2016

    The hexgonal exhibit is replaced with a round arcylic aquarium. Aquarium changes name to Dennis Kelly Public Aquarium and start offering public tours.

    Moving round acrylic aquarium into Lewis Center lobby to replace hexagonal exhibit, 2015
    Lewis center lobby Dennis Kelly Aquarium Dedication, 2016

  14. 2020/2021

    Aquarium closed due to Covid-19. Exhibits and organisms maintained by student managers and Aquarium Director Lindsey. Build out Green house 6 in horticulture to be aquaponics. Update temperate system filtration and increase volume. Aquarium= 8,080 gallons!

    Lewis Center lobby with empty reef aquarium ready for set-up, 2017.
    Greenhouse under construction, 2021.

  15. 2021/2022

    Aquarium opens back up to the public. Mary Blasius is the new director.

  16. 2023

    New Mural

Student Testimonials

Melissa Chiang

“Having been part of the program as well as supervised it from a faculty stance, I’ve seen this program provide a community for the students that pass through and foster trade skills as well as lifelong friendships. One observation I heard from a friend I toured around campus post-pandemic was that it was one of the few places where people were positively and genuinely interacting with one another. I could go on and on with crazy stories and great times. When Rob advertises the program at the start of every semester and calls it fun, it truly is.” 

Zane Calendine

“If I could go back in time to experience my years at the aquarium again, I absolutely would. The friends, the memories, and the skills I've learned from the ages I spent there will last me a life-time and I'm forever grateful to the professors and faculty for their unparalleled guidance along the way.” 

Maddie Enriquez

“My time at the Dennis Kelly Aquarium is to this day, the best time I had at OCC. I made friendships that will last a lifetime and built skills that have helped me land my dream job in my last semester at CSUMB. I am so thankful and if I can say anything to people joining the program it would be, work hard and make the effort to learn. If it was not for this program, I would not be at the point in my career that I am at now.” 

Matthew Coleman

“I really enjoyed helping build the new aquaponics system. I also love and miss working with Rip!”