Coronavirus pauses Alaskan cruises; could hurt marine animal center with lack of tourism

Alaska SeaLife Center estimates it needs $2 million to survive the COVID-19 pandemic

The cruise industry has largely pushed back it’s sail date to October 31, as an agreement proposed by the Cruise Lines International Association, top tourist attractions in Alaska are at risk of going out of business.

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And this includes the Alaska SeaLife Center, which typically welcomed around 160,000 visitors before the coronavirus pandemic slashed tourism. It will take $2 million for the Seward-based aquarium and mammal rehabilitation facility to survive, according to a public fundraising campaign it launched.

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“Aquariums like ASLC are especially vulnerable during this difficult time because we can’t reduce operating costs like most businesses—we can’t just shut the doors, turn off the lights and furlough staff,” said Tara Riemer, the Alaska SeaLife Center’s president and CEO. “We need to maintain good animal care, maintain the building, and keep seawater pumping throughout the building every minute of every day.”

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Alaska had 37 cruise ships dock in its waters in 2019 and welcomed 1.3 million visitors off those ships, according to data from the Alaskan chapter of the CLIA. If all had gone well in 2020, The Last Frontier would have seen around 1.4 million visitors, the report estimated.

In April, consultant Mike Tibbles at the Cruise Lines International Association Alaska told Alaska Public Media he expects more than 800,000 visitors to skip out on their planned vacations in the state.

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And this was months before Alaska adopted strict travel rules for non-residents. Anyone who would like to visit Alaska from another state or country will have to take a coronavirus test 72 hours before their departure and upload their results to the Alaska Travel Portal, according to the state’s current health guidance.

If results are not received by the time visitors arrive, the Alaskan government is asking visitors to self-quarantine until they get their negative result.

Visitors who do not take a test in advance will have the opportunity to take a test when they arrive in Alaska at the cost of $250 per test.

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Alaska has a low rate of coronavirus infections. Since March, only 5,175 Alaskans have contracted the virus. Twenty-nine deaths are recording in the state as of Tuesday evening, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard.