- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - The chief executive and president of the New England Aquarium announced Wednesday that he is stepping down after overseeing a nine-year period of growth in exhibits, research and conservation initiatives.

Bud Ris will step down in May and be replaced by Nigella Hillgarth, the executive director of UC San Diego’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps, part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Since coming to the Boston aquarium in 2005, Ris has helped raise $43 million to rebuild infrastructure, enhance programs and develop new exhibits, including the renovated the 26-foot deep, 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank, which holds more than 1,000 sea creatures.

During his time, the aquarium, one of the region’s most popular attractions with more than 1.3 million visitors per year, opened the East Coast’s largest shark and ray touch tank, built a marine mammal center, and developed a sea turtle hospital and animal care center in the old Quincy Shipyard.

Bud’s legacy is best represented by his vision for the aquarium both as an important cultural and educational force in Boston and also as a global leader dedicated to protecting the oceans,” aquarium board chairwoman Donna Hazard said.

Ris said, “Among the top accomplishments of our board supporters and staff during my tenure here has been restoring the Aquarium to good financial health and building a strong foundation for future growth and impact.”

Hillgarth has led the San Diego aquarium since 2002 and prior to that headed the largest bird park in the United States at the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City.

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