It's so easy to get distracted by North Carolina's beautiful mountains, lovely Atlantic beaches, and bustling cities - so much so that many residents and visitors forget about its epic aquariums. The state showcases a magnificent array of diverse aquatic life; from rare sea turtles and sharks to both tropical marine species and freshwater creatures, the aquatic life centers of North Carolina contain intense fascination for all ages. Be it exhibitions, sunken wrecks, touch pools, and centers for conservation and research, The Tar Heel State boasts some of the world's leading aquariums that are at the forefront of cutting edge research, spearheading marine and freshwater species conservation and protection projects - and some of its very best watery establishments this article dives head first into. The following aren't the only aquatic centers worthy of budding biologists' attention of course - there are many more out there - but these are representative of much of North Carolina's best and for all ages.Related: 10 Must-See Aquariums In The United States

10 North Carolina Museum Of Natural Sciences

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences ushers visitors along a fantastic journey of discovery; from the Appalachian Mountains to the depths of the North Carolina coast, this place tells an educational, entertaining story through its five immersive saltwater exhibits, nine freshwater displays, and its over 100 species of aquatic creatures. It's also an absolute must-visit for North Carolina's aspiring scientists and marine conservationists, who'll be in their element when discovering its informative and engaging exhibits designed to inspire - particularly the surreal Glofish Exhibit, which teaches visitors the magic of DNA altering. Alongside its aquarium, the museum is also home to tons of other amazing species, including hundreds of amphibians, reptiles, and arthropods to name but a few - so fans of creatures big and small or wet and dry can satiate their cravings and curiosity for all kinds of species thriving in the natural world.

9 EMA Touch Tank Aquarium

The Ecological Marine Adventures Touch Tank Aquarium offers far more than just education and awe; it also affords one of the state's best hands-on experiences in which visitors can learn about the species they're enjoying intimate encounters with. Designed to educate and entertain guests (notably, the little ones), this aquarium is a treasure trove of amazing and amusing exhibits and interactive experiences; with its tactile fossil dig site, petting sessions with rays and crabs, superb shark station complete with real ancient shark teeth on show, and even scheduled dissections to intrigue and inspire future scientists among the crowd, this is one of North Carolina's best aquatic centers for those who like to get involved as well as observe.

Related: For The Ultimate Underwater Experience, Add These Aquariums To Your Summer List

8 Sea Life Charlotte-Concord

Home to North Carolina's only aquatic tunnel, the Sea Life Charlotte-Concord has more than earned its place on this list. The whole place is a massive underwater realm on display, where guests can get up close to all kinds of creatures, including tropical fish, sharks, and of course the aquarium's friendly resident turtle - Neptune. Visitors that thought this place couldn't get much more inquisitive can think again; for an intense insight into what goes on behind the scenes, guests can sign up for a guided tour of the aquarium in which they get to see what goes on in its bustling interiors. It's a 20-minute tour that offers an eye-opening exploration of the aquarium, allowing curious visitors to see exactly what happens behind closed doors, such as staff preparing the daily feeding presentations of rays and sharks for one. Want something that the kiddies will love? Then get this: the aquarium also boasts an interactive tidal touch pool full of creatures waiting to be petted.

7 North Carolina Aquarium On Roanoke Island

Founded in 1976, this aquarium on Roanoke Island is one of the state's highly rated. Hosting some of the planet's most intriguing aquatic critters, visitors of this spectacular establishment can gawk at myriads of different species, including river otters and freshwater alligators, as well as various animals dwelling in large saltwater exhibits. There's plenty of inspiration to be had here, but one of the most inspiring is undeniably the Roanoke Island sea turtle rehabilitation center, where curious visitors can observe conservationists as they care for injured turtles and prepare them for release into the wild. Another fantastic feature that'll enthrall and inspire? It's the aquarium's one and only “Graveyard of the Atlantic” exhibit, where visitors come face to face with epic numbers of sharks - with whom brave guests can dive too if they're a certified open water diver!

Related: 10 Must-See Aquariums In Europe

6 North Carolina Estuarium

The North Carolina Estruarium offers the unique chance to discover what life is like at the heart of an estuary. Different from all others on this list, this establishment is the very first of its kind on the planet, and if that's not enough for them to brag about then perhaps their 200 exhibits are. Offering an in-depth discovery of North Carolina's habitats, the Estruarium is a story and journey of the state's natural environment and showcases everything from aquatic animals and flora to weather patterns, climate, and cultural heritage. What's more, visitors can also marvel at amazing works of art at many exhibits or hop on a riverboat tour for even more exploration of North Carolina's wet habitats.

5 North Carolina Aquarium At Fort Fisher

The port city of Wilmington is home to the Fort Fisher Aquarium, where a number of incredible creatures inhabit its waters. Visitors to this esteemed aquatic center of excellence can marvel at extremely rare creatures, one of whom is the famous and elusive albino alligator named Luna - the aquarium's extra-special resident whose eye-catching appearance is super rare and super fascinating. In addition, as visitors follow the Cape Fear River into the Atlantic Ocean, they can scope out other awesome and adorable creatures along the way, including bald eagles and a cute family of Asian small-clawed river otters among many others. Of course, one of the best and most extraordinary parts of this particular aquarium - aside from its mind-blowingly massive megalodon jaws on the show (the biggest shark to ever exist) - is its tidal touch pool that offers a fantastic, intimate experience in which guests of all ages can pet all manners of marine creatures, including starfish and bamboo sharks. If interacting with critters is of peak interest, then visitors can enjoy even closer encounters by feeding the flocks of tropical birds that reside here.

Related: Osaka Aquarium Is One Of The World's Largest & Most Unique

4 North Carolina Aquarium At Pine Knoll Shores

Located on the Crystal Coast, the aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores welcomes visitors with a cascading three-story-high indoor waterfall - a stupendous feature that signals folks are in for a wicked time from the moment they walk in. And it just gets better and better from there; the aquarium boasts a number of incredible surprises within, with one being the largest man-made oceanic habitat in the state that's also home to a living shipwreck - a full-sized realistic replica of the U-352 German U-boat that sank off the coast in 1942. Even more impressively, along with its clouds of fish and sharks to marvel at, Pine Knoll Shores aquarium also hosts an unbelievable animal that's extremely rare; a white sea turtle. Throw in the family fun play park for the kids and the on-site snack and gift shop, and this place is perfect for spending the whole day.

3 Appalachian Rivers Aquarium

The Appalachian Rivers Aquarium is a freshwater center showcasing the inland aquatic species and ecosystems of North Carolina. It may be small, but this aquarium amply makes up for its pint size; it's chock-full of local and exotic freshwater critters and offers visitors an awesome insight into the American waterways. There are seemingly endless species to admire; from rare and endangered creatures like the hellbender to brightly colored fish darting about the exhibits, this freshwater show of North Carolina's waters never ceases to amaze all that enter. How can this place get any better than its magnificent displays of the state's freshwater animals and habitats? Perhaps the fact that entry is completely free of charge might just do the trick.

2 Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team ECCO

The Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team ECCO in Hendersonville is a famous spot promising an interactive, informative day out, and is especially renowned for its conservation efforts, which thousands of visitors get to learn about and explore when they come to spend the day. At any given time, the establishment has a number of unique projects underway, including turtle rescue, reef, mangrove, and grass bed ecology, reptile education, and more. Adults and children alike can enjoy a number of fascinating exhibits and encounters, such as reptile feeding sessions and encounters, and even witness the epic feeding frenzies of the stingray and sharks that live life here.

1 The Wiseman Aquarium At Greensboro Science Center

The Wiseman Aquarium at the Greensboro Science Center is a visual experience full of wonder. Visitors can witness the majesty of myriads of unique marine marvels, such as the indigenous giant pacific octopus, Asian small-clawed river otters, and even the stunning shape and colors of the lionfish - a striking creature found in tropical waters around the world. This place also has its own harbor where visitors can enjoy handsy encounters with rays and sharks who love to be petted. But this aquarium's greatest attraction is probably this: the Shark Reef - a whopping 90,000-gallon Caribbean exhibit brimming with vibrant tropical marine species. And before heading home, penguin lovers should make sure they seek out the property's resident flock of adorable African penguins. Who knows? Lucky folks might get to watch them diving for fish come dinner time.