Maritime Aquarium announces new president

Jason Patlis, who has been the executive director of Marine Conservation Programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, will be the new president and chief executive officer of the Maritime Aquarium, officials announced Wednesday.

Since 2016, Patlis has served as the executive director for marine conservation of the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose five institutions include the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo and New York Aquarium.

“I am deeply honored and profoundly excited to lead the Maritime Aquarium forward,” Patlis said in a statement. “An institution that is beloved by the community for its live exhibits and educational programs, the Maritime Aquarium has an opportunity to grow into a more powerful champion for Long Island Sound and its coastal environment.”

Board officials said they were excited to bring Patlis on board.

“We feel like we’re a band that got Paul McCartney to come sing lead,” Audrey Weil, co-chairwoman of the Aquarium’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “Jason brings to the Maritime Aquarium an incredible depth of knowledge, vision and leadership in national and international marine conservation, as well as proven experience in not-for-profit management. He is impressively accomplished in all his endeavors, and we are so pleased and fortunate to welcome him to the Maritime Aquarium.”

Patlis has served in a variety of ocean and natural-resource conservation executive management and public policy roles over the past 27 years. From 2007 to 2009, Patlis served as the vice president and managing director of U.S. government relations of the World Wildlife Fund, and then joined the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation as president and CEO from 2009 to 2016.

Patlis’ hiring comes about seven months after former CEO Maureen Hanley was quietly relieved of her position in February.

Hanley had been on the job for less than three months before she was ousted from her role. Her removal came at a time of uncertainity and transition at the aquarium, as the impending replacement of the 120-year-old Walk Bridge, which carries railroad tracks over the Norwalk River, required the razing and relocation of the aquarium’s biggest attractions, the IMAX theater, as well as other exhibits.

During Hanley’s time, the city also assumed a much larger role in the functional replacement of the IMAX theater. In February, the Common Council approved a restructured financial agreement between the city, the aquarium and the state, which allowed the city to take the lead on the project.

The estimated $40 million replacement project, which is being funded by the state, was at first overseen by the Maritime Aquarium, but in February, the state and Norwalk agreed to a deal that put the city in charge.

In July, Norwalk Buildings and Facilities Manager Alan Lo announced the decision to eliminate several items from the aquarium’s original plans, including a new North Water Street entrance, two planned “Go Fish!” exhibits that display fish found in Long Island Sound, and a new dedicated space for a meerkat exhibit. Lo cited budgetary concerns as the reason for the new direction.

Patlis will begin his role at the a quarium on Nov. 4. The work on the theater and seals exhibit will begin in October and are estimated to take about a year.

Patlis will be the ninth president in the aquarium’s 32-year history.