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Photo of aquarium and mural at the mokupapapa discovery center
Aquarium and Mural at the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center

Five Times the Fun at the Redesigned Mokupāpapa Discovery Center

By Liz Liang

NOAA's Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo, Hawaii, reopened its doors to the public last week after nearly a year of renovations, unveiling a new 20,000-square-foot facility that's five times the size of its previous location.

photo of a cute girl learning at the discovery center

Photo: NOAA

More than 1,000 visitors flocked to the discovery center's grand opening event on Saturday, March 15. Located in Hilo's historic Koehnen's Ltd. Building, the expanded and revamped discovery center features exhibits including interactive displays and kiosks, a large-scale wall map, and wall-sized graphic panels with interpretive text in both Hawaiian and English. It also boasts a 3,500-gallon saltwater aquarium that showcases some of the unique fish species that inhabit Northwestern Hawaiian Island reefs.

Photo of the grand opening of the discovery center

Photo: NOAA

The discovery center is an essential education tool for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Since few people will ever get the opportunity to visit the remote atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the goal of the facility is to "bring the place to the people.”

Photo of a little girl looking at the aquarium in  the discovery center

Photo: NOAA

"Facilities like the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center are absolutely critical in providing the spark that motivates young people to pursue careers in science or resource management,” said Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator, during her recent visit to the center. "The key is to show and not just tell.

Photo of person in a seal costume dancing

Photo: NOAA

Since opening in 2003, Mokupāpapa has hosted more than 60,000 visitors per year — including school groups, community groups, locals and tourists alike. To date, more than half a million people have walked through the center's doors.

NOAA envisions that the new facility will also become a premier downtown Hilo attraction and popular gathering place for the local community, hosting meetings, cultural events and other activities. Future plans call for the addition of more classrooms, a theater and a training center that will be used to host workshops for domestic and international groups working in marine management and conservation.

For more information, visit

Click on the images below to take a look at the discovery center in a panoramic view.

Panorama view of downstairs of the discvoery center

Panorama view of mural and tank in  the discvoery center

Panorama view of mural and tank in  the discvoery center

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