Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A couple walks through the Aquarium Plaza on Thursday, July 2.

One month after a limited reopening, the Tennessee Aquarium has secured a top spot in USA Today's 10 Best Reader's Choice awards to determine the nation's premiere aquariums.

The Aquarium came in fifth on the top 10 list, thanks to an outpouring of support from all over the nation, said Tennessee Aquarium President and CEO Keith Sanford.

"We're so grateful to our followers and fans, who helped us finish strong in this contest," Sanford said in an announcement of the contest results. "It's extremely gratifying to see this recognition of our team's expertise, enthusiasm and dedication to our mission."

The contest featured 20 facilities nominated by a panel of tourism and zoological experts, and voting ran from June 15 and July 6. Winners were selected by popular vote.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, came in second, while the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta finished sixth.

Last year, the Tennessee Aquarium came in ninth on the USA Today list, and it finished seventh in 2018.

Since opening in 1992, the Tennessee Aquarium has attracted more than 25 million people to Chattanooga from all over the world. The Aquarium was closed for 96 days, from March through June in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The loss of visitors cost the Aquarium 90% of its revenue, and keeping the facility running and caring for the 10,000 animals who live there put a big dent in financial reserves and derailed plans to pay off debt.

During the closure, Aquarium staff hosted a variety of remote educational programs to give people a glimpse inside the facility and keep them engaged with the facility's mission.

Contact Mary Fortune at or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter @maryfortune.

The top 10 best aquariums:

Wonders of Wildlife - Springfield, Missouri

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas - New Orleans

Texas State Aquarium - Corpus Christi, Texas

Tennessee Aquarium - Chattanooga, Tennessee

Georgia Aquarium - Atlanta, Georgia

Adventure Aquarium - Camden, New Jersey

Mystic Aquarium - Mystic, Connecticut

Newport Aquarium - Newport, Kentucky

OdySea Aquarium - Scottsdale, Arizona


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Contributed photo / Thom Benson is chief communications and marketing officer for the Tennessee Aquarium.