Mercyhurst student casts whopper of an idea with aquatic exhibit

When Christine Devore moved to Erie in 2011 to pursue her master’s degree in organizational leadership at Mercyhurst University, she felt like a fish out of water.

Coming from Washington, D.C., where she worked alongside the aquatic curator at The Smithsonian National Zoo, Devore was surprised that the City of Erie did not operate an aquarium despite bordering one of the U.S. Great Lakes. Devore hopes to change that; before she graduates with her master’s degree this spring, she will propose her business plan for bringing an aquatic exhibit to Erie to several potential investors and host sites.

“Since I was introduced to the zoo and aquarium business when I was a little girl, it has been my dream to start my own,” said Devore, a University of Arizona graduate who studied veterinary science. “When I came to Erie, I thought, ‘this is crazy — there is no aquarium closer than 90 miles.’ I saw a weakness in the market and wanted to change that.”

While Lake Erie serves as the main source of water for Erie residents, the Lake’s importance extends beyond being a simple water supply. Lake Erie is part of Erie’s history and its culture; it attracts more than 3 million tourists each year; and it still serves as a port for industry, especially fishing. Because the nearest aquarium is located in Cleveland, area residents and tourists don’t get to experience Lake Erie’s diverse ecosystem.

“No one else has anything like it in the area,” said David Frew, Ph.D., visiting professor of business and Devore’s adviser. “A high-end exhibit that Christine is proposing would tell stories and legends about Lake Erie. And, it would teach visitors about the importance of Lake Erie, the biomass, the invasive fish species and the threat that these invasives impose.”

Devore’s research, based on the city’s current economic state, population size (near 300,000) and the number/demographic of annual visiting tourists, argues that while Erie may not be able to support a full-scale aquarium, the city would easily be able to sustain an aquatic exhibit.

Unlike an aquarium, Devore’s vision would incorporate the aquatic exhibit within an already established art gallery, museum or tourist center in the Erie area. Her proposed exhibit would feature one large, 11,000-gallon tank that would house 10-15 large native species, such as the native Lake Erie Sturgeon. In addition, the exhibit would house several smaller tanks to display 8-10 small native fish, as well as up to five invasive (foreign) species.

With Frew’s guidance, Devore is reaching out to potential funders and area sites that could house the exhibit. She said if she is able to generate enough interest, she hopes to follow the process through from start to finish. This means contributing her input toward the design of the exhibit, as well as possibly curating the exhibit.

For more information regarding the aquatic exhibit, including interest in investing in the project, contact Christine Devore at

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