Meet the Extraordinary Man Who Built an Ocean in the Heart of the Desert

Published on Forbes 5/14/2014

It’s rare to meet a genuine maverick innovator who, against all odds, does something extraordinary.

Brent Andersen, Founder and CEO of the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, is a marine biologist who calls Utah, the second most arid state in the nation, home. Utah is best known for its Rocky Mountains, not its access to oceans.

Brent is a remarkable entrepreneur who wanted to teach children in the desert about our remarkable planet. He began his journey by creating a traveling science program called the “Aqua Van” to visit local elementary schools, with a variety of sea creatures.

He later transformed an old grocery store into the Living Planet Aquarium. Today his sea and land creatures reside in the ninth largest aquarium in the nation! This might not seem all that noteworthy until one takes into consideration that this maverick built the aquarium when most believed it could not be done.

When the doors to the “ocean” opened, thousands of visitors came from all over the globe to visit the extraordinary creatures inside the aquarium. Our team only wanted to see one: the man who did it. He’s our kind of “fish.”

Brent Andersen is the Founder and CEO of the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

When Brent was five years old, growing up in Sandy, Utah, his grandmother gave him a Time Life hardcover book about the sea. This single gift determined the direction for the rest of his life. The hours he spent reading this book turned into years of fascination with the underwater world. As a child, he also loved the television series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” and his fascination with the sea became a solid intention to become a marine biologist.

In 1998, Brent began developing a vision for a world-class aquarium in Salt Lake City. Although he had a lofty goal, he started small. In 1999, he outfitted the “Aqua Van” with educational exhibits and began visiting Utah schools. Today his larger mission, vision, and dream are a reality, but you won’t find him sitting in an executive suite. No – we found him tending to a shark and a sea turtle and collecting wetsuits. He offered to serve as our tour guide. Utah is now home to the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, which is quickly becoming one of the country’s most extraordinary success stories in its field.

When Brent first started building the aquarium, everyone told him he was crazy to invest all his time and energy into the endeavor, but that just inspired him to try harder. He was advised not to oversee every aspect of the aquarium’s operation and he was warned that he would never generate enough interest to raise the required money. He did both of those things anyway.

Passion That Built the Vision

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What would you create? Who could you inspire? What wondrous things would you learn?” Being so near the majestic ocean, yet so far from his childhood dream, Brent began to envision the benefits of bringing an exciting underwater adventure to his home town of Salt Lake City. He wanted to share his passion for the sea with the many landlocked Utahns who may never have the opportunity to learn about the wonders of the ocean and learn about how to better care for their planet. He decided his dream was important enough to simply leave everything behind and start anew. He moved back to Salt Lake City in February 1998, formed a nonprofit organization and began the task of creating The Living Planet Aquarium. Our team at Fishbowl had the opportunity to assist Brent and his team in a research study of tracking their vast amounts of inventory, consisting of animals, food, and other supplies when the aquarium was housed in what was once a small grocery store. It was a blast learning how something could be counted as inventory one day and the next day it could become fish food!

Our team hopes to one day help Brent create an inventory tracking solution that can help marine biologists across the world study and share educational opportunities through the Fishbowl Oceans Institute. Yes, we dream big, too. We also discovered that those who take on the impossible create the most extraordinary miracles because they have a lot of heart. The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is dedicated to celebrating life on Earth by fostering greater awareness and knowledge of our planet’s diverse ecosystems and our place in them.

The aquarium is home to a magnificent seven-foot-long nurse shark. We asked Brent how he got the shark to Utah. He shared with us that someone in Utah had it as a pet, and when it became too big they offered it to the aquarium. We also noticed a huge green sea turtle that wore a little backpack. Brent explained that she had been hit by a speedboat and attacked by a tiger shark. She survived, though she was too injured to survive in the wild, and came to the aquarium to live. The backpack is actually a weight to keep her neutrally buoyant, since her injuries made that difficult.

“People in Utah and other landlocked regions may have heard something about the state of the ocean and presumed that is has nothing to do with them,” Brent told us. “They often do not understand that the decisions they make every day affect the ocean. Even though 80 percent of Americans understand that human activity is endangering the ocean, only 30 percent feel that their personal actions have an impact. New research has shown that public interest in the health of the environment and the ocean is increasing and that Americans are beginning to understand that their personal actions can have an impact on the world’s ecosystems. Studies show that nearly half of the citizens of Utah would never have the opportunity to travel outside the state to learn about our Earth’s ecosystems.”

At this aquarium, marine biologists and individuals from many other academic fields are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit. Brent reminds us that when you commit to your mission and vision there will be many times when you are the only one who believes and “gets it.”

People are flocking from all over the country to visit this extraordinary aquarium. We highly recommend that if you get the chance; meet the visionary, Founder and CEO Brent Andersen. He is a rare breed of entrepreneur, thought leader, and educator. As always, we look forward to hearing from you. Here is sneak peek inside the aquarium.

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