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Illustrated rendering of people see marine life swimming in the locks system from Port Canaveral

We are excited to share the incredible news that we have received an incredibly generous $2.5 million gift from Blain and Annette Nelson that will play a pivotal role in funding the Canaveral Lock exhibit at the future Aquarium and Conservation Center.

“We are excited to support the Aquarium project as it brings environmental education, conservation, and rehabilitation awareness to the coastal ecosystem we have enjoyed over the past 33 years,” said Annette Nelson. “I have been fishing the Indian River since arriving in Brevard County in 1991 and have been fishing offshore from Port Canaveral for the past 20 years. The aquarium and its conservation mission are very important to the area,” said Blain Nelson.

In recognition of the gift, Blain and Annette Nelson’s names along with the names of future donors will be proudly displayed at the Canaveral Locks. The 2,615-square-foot building will model the locks at Port Canaveral that provide a vital connection between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon for cruise ships, fishing boats, recreational watercraft and wildlife.

The star attraction will be a 32,300-gallon sea life habitat that emulates the underwater infrastructure of the lock system and showcases Florida gamefish such as redfish, drum, sheepshead, snook and jack. The building will also include an educational “water table” exhibit designed to model the linkages and flow of water between the Banana River, Port Canaveral and the ocean. The space also includes a soft play area for younger children, an indoor café offering air-conditioned seating and an outdoor play space.

“We are incredibly grateful for such a generous gift from the Nelson Family,” said Chief Executive Officer Keith Winsten. “Their philanthropic dedication will create a remarkable impact on the community and the environment they deeply cherish. The Locks will provide impactful, immersive experiences designed to convey the knowledge needed to empower change and inspire action towards a more sustainable future.”

This gift was made by Blain and Annette Nelson, who owned and operated Nelson Engineering Co. on North Merritt Island for almost 30 years. After selling the company in 2022, the couple wanted to play an integral part in giving back to their community and be connected with the future Aquarium because they care deeply for the Indian River Lagoon and other coastal waterways. Nelson Engineering Co.’s first contract in the early nineties was with the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands (EELS) program when the organization was run by Dr. Duane De Freese, who currently plays an integral part in the continued development of our future Aquarium.