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New England Aquarium has a new CEO

Vikki Spruill will start her job as CEO of New England Aquarium in July. Handout

The New England Aquarium on Monday named a new president and chief executive, nearly a year after the surprising departure of its former chief.

Vikki Spruill, who currently heads the Virginia-based Council on Foundations, is scheduled to start her new job at the aquarium on July 30. She will replace interim chief executive Donna Hazard, who chairs the aquarium’s board of trustees.

Hazard assumed the interim role from board member Maliz Beams, who was appointed to the post last spring after the resignation of chief executive Nigella Hillgarth less than three years into the role. Beams stepped down as interim CEO after taking another job in Washington, D.C.


Spruill, 60, brings a vast background in marine conservation, having previously served as head of the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy, a national environmental advocacy nonprofit.

She will take over one of Boston’s most popular attractions at a time when it’s in the midst of what have sometimes been tense negotiations with developer Don Chiofaro, who is proposing to build a skyscraper on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage, next to the aquarium. Aquarium officials worry that years of construction would affect attendance.

State officials are considering new waterfront zoning that would allow a project like Chiofaro’s. A plan filed by the Boston Planning & Development Agency would require Chiofaro to earmark millions of dollars to compensate the aquarium for potential business losses. The developer would also have to set aside permanent parking for aquarium visitors.

Last year, the aquarium recorded its highest attendance in more than 15 years, with 1.4 million visitors.

But recent tidal floods along the waterfront exacerbated by winter storms forced several closings. Spruill said the unprecedented coastal flooding underscores the fact that climate change and its connection to the oceans is the “prime issue for our time.”


“You can’t be in Boston and not think of the ocean,” Spruill said in an interview. The aquarium, she said, is “one of the most significant cultural institutions in an expanding and exciting city. So, to me, it’s how do you bring all of those pieces together and elevate the exposure, visibility, reputation, and solid work of this institution.”

Throughout her career, Spruill has worked to make philanthropy more effective for funders and more transparent for the public. She has also led several initiatives to encourage volunteer participation in international coastal cleanup efforts, including with the Massachusetts Coastsweep program, which is organized through the Ocean Conservancy.

“Vikki’s extraordinary experience and leadership in both marine conservation and philanthropy make her uniquely qualified to lead the aquarium’s mission to protect and advocate for vital and vibrant oceans,” said Hazard, the outgoing interim chief.

Since 2012, Spruill has served as president and chief executive of the Council of Foundations, the principal leadership organization for foundations and grant-making institutions in the United States. She also launched the Trash Free Seas Alliance, an industry collaborative that has produced research on the impacts of plastic in the ocean.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.