Archive for the 'Volunteer Spotlight' Category

Thoughtful Thursday: Inspiring the Next Generation of Ocean-Lovers

Our celebration of National Volunteer Appreciation Week continues with a special story about one of the Aquarium’s volunteers and her students!

Abbe Harman has been a volunteer supporter of the National Aquarium for 28 years and a teacher for for Frederick County Public Schools for 25 years. As an Enrichment Specialist at Middletown Elementary School, Abbe works closely with fifth grade students, teaching them about the Chesapeake Bay watershed and coral reef ecosystems!

Yesterday, Abbe hosted a large group of her fifth graders for a special field trip tot he Aquarium! The students were able to see their teacher in-action, as she led an interactive lesson and fed the animals in our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

national aquarium volunteer diver

In the weeks leading up to their field trip, Abbe’s students also had the opportunity to enter an essay contest for the opportunity to go on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Aquarium.

Abbe, from all of us here at the National Aquarium, thank you for being a longtime supporter of our mission and an impactful educator.

Do you volunteer? Share your story with us in the comments section and online using #NVW14!

It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week!

In celebration of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we’re highlighting just a few of the amazing ways our volunteers have gone above and beyond to help the National Aquarium fulfill our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures!

The passion and dedication of our volunteers led them to log a record-setting 124,390 hours at the National Aquarium in 2013 – a four percent increase over 2012’s total volunteer hours! The 2013 hours come from more than 960 volunteers and represents a $2.87 million workplace value (equivalent to approximately 60 full-time positions).

The Aquarium volunteer team represents a wide range of experience, skills and backgrounds including aquarists, divers, lab assistants, clinical veterinarians and more. The volunteers do everything from assisting at the information desk and diving to grass plantings and animal rescues, and they vary as much as their job descriptions.

The majority of the volunteers are from Baltimore and the surrounding counties, but some traveled from as far away as California, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Here are some major volunteer highlights from 2013:

  • The Jellies Aquarist program tripled its volunteer and service hours.
  • High school students logged close to 10,000 hours in two programs.
  • Volunteers contributed more than 2,000 hours of underwater maintenance for Dolphin Discovery.
  • Eastern Shore Animal Rescue volunteers doubled their service hours to 1,153 in stranding and outreach activities.

For more information about volunteer opportunities at the National Aquarium, visit

Stay tuned for more volunteer highlights throughout the week and join the conversation online using #NVW14!

Volunteer Spotlight: Jillie Drutz, Chesapeake Conservation Corps

We would like to welcome the newest volunteer of the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!), Jillie Drutz! Joining the National Aquarium as the 4th Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC) volunteer the department has hosted, Jillie will be dedicating a year to helping the Conservation department in their endeavors to conserve, restore, and educate about the Chesapeake watershed.

national aquarium volunteer jillie

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps, a program supported by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, was established in 2010 by the Maryland Legislature in order to provide environmental service-learning opportunities for young professionals interested in pursuing conservation careers. The initiative pairs around 25 Corps volunteers with environmental organizations focusing on Chesapeake Bay conservation all throughout Maryland.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Jillie graduated in May of 2013 from the George Washington University in Washington, DC where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Biological Anthropology. She always knew that one day she would dedicate some time to working to protect the Chesapeake Bay, which is why she applied to the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. Jillie feels extremely honored to be assigned to the National Aquarium, where she gets to combine her love of fieldwork and education, and where she can learn more about how a museum institution can be involved in the local community.

Jillie has already had the opportunity to participate in wetland restoration at the Masonville fringe wetland and riparian buffer restoration at Farring-Baybrook Park and Indian Head Naval Facility. She has also worked with students in our Wetland Nursery Program. She enjoys working with community volunteers and students from various backgrounds during these projects, and is excited for the opportunity to give back to her city and her Bay. She cannot wait for the field season to start again in the Spring!

Sign up for one of our upcoming conservation events and come meet our new volunteer!

Volunteer Spotlight: Kara Brown


Meet Kara Brown, one of our amazing community volunteers who has generously donated her time at our restoration events (and converted it into dollars through T. Rowe Price’s “dollars for doers” employee program)!

Kara has volunteered at numerous of our planting events, including this project at Indian Head!

Kara has volunteered at numerous of our planting events, including this project at Indian Head!

How long have you been volunteering with the National Aquarium?

Although I had wanted to volunteer for the Aquarium for several years, nothing worked out with my schedule until June 2012, so just since this past year.

What motivated you to volunteer and why do you continue?

I was motivated to volunteer to help rectify some of the damage done by centuries of misuse of the Chesapeake Bay.  The Indian Head shoreline restoration project was perfect- it has great importance, fit my schedule, and would allow me to utilize my employer’s “dollars for doers” program, which made a donation to the Aquarium based on the number of hours that I volunteered.  I hope to be able to continue volunteering with the Aquarium, as the work they do is so important to restoring health to the Bay and the world’s oceans.

What is your most memorable experience from an event?

I would have to say my most memorable experience was the 110 degree heat index during the Indian Head shoreline restoration!  But seriously, it has been seeing the hard work and selfless dedication of a core of repeat volunteers, and the Aquarium employees.  It is amazing to witness how much can be accomplished in a short amount of time by a small group of caring people.

Does your work with the National Aquarium tie into your job or other volunteer work you are engaged in?

The work that I did with the National Aquarium definitely goes hand in hand with my personal life and other volunteer work.  As an avid outdoors person and paddler, I am a long time member of the Baltimore Canoe and Kayak Club.  I have participated in river cleanups organized by the club for several years.  These cleanups have removed many tons of trash – appliances, over 1,000 tires, and even several complete cars – from two area rivers and their shores.

Thanks for all the hard work and support, Kara! Want to become a volunteer? Click here to find out how! 

Volunteer Spotlight: Aquarium Conservation Team Welcomes Its Newest Member!

The Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) is pleased to welcome its newest volunteer, Steph Pully! She will be volunteering with us for one year as a part of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. The Corps, now welcoming its third class, was founded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust as a program to promote the health of the bay through environmental education, community engagement in conservation and energy efficiency. The trust’s 26 volunteers are working with various environmentally-focused host organizations throughout the state of Maryland.

Steph Pully doing restoration work in the field

Throughout the year, members undergo a series of trainings on leadership, professional development, environmental education and watershed restoration.  These trainings are aimed at developing skill sets that will help them in their future careers, as well as teach the members more about the Chesapeake Bay and what we can do to protect it.

Steph, originally from Frederick, Maryland, graduated in May from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  She earned her B.S. degree in Environmental Science.  Steph also spent the summers in Ocean City, Maryland working for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program where she gained valuable, hands-on experience in watershed restoration.

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps allows Steph to combine her love for both restoration events in the field and environmental education programming.  In her short time as a member, she has already connected with her fellow corps members and looks forward to working with them throughout the year. She also appreciates the numerous networking opportunities that the corps provides for young environmentalists.

As a volunteer with ACT!, Steph hopes to gain valuable experience and contribute to the rebuild and preservation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  In the near future, she is looking forward to her first trip with the ACT! to Virginia Beach for a sand dune restoration project this September.  She cannot wait to spend her days out in the field and to get involved with the community volunteers!

Sign up for any one of our conservation events and come meet our newest member!

Volunteer Spotlight: Q&A With Cris and Bill Fuller

Learn a little about a couple from Virginia Beach who volunteers with us restoring sand dunes at NAS Dam Neck Annex time and time again!

How long have you been volunteering with the National Aquarium?

Three years ago we saw an article in our local newspaper about your need for volunteers. Our thoughts were “Gee, a day on the beach…doing something worthwhile…what could be better?!”

Why do you continue to help?

It’s obvious our shorelines need help. We like that it’s a short-term commitment. We know we’ll be there volunteering for the two days of the event (yes, we do BOTH days), and then we’re free to go do something else.

At the end of the day, although we’re tired, we have such a good feeling, a sense of accomplishment, a connection to the Earth and its beauty.

Bill at the May 2012 planting

What is your most memorable experience from an event?

We have so many great memories…

Lots of men working to get the truck un-stuck in the soft sand, pelicans flying in formation just 20 feet over our heads, gentle rain cooling us off, sighting dolphins, kids making sand angels in between planting flats of dune grass.

We have fun getting to know the people working next to us. There are Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, people with multiple college degrees, people who couldn’t wait to get out of high school, home-schooled families, people with handicaps, people with huge muscles, locals, out-of-towners—all there to help. Since Bill spent 30 years in the Navy, we enjoy being around the active-duty sailors and marines who also come to help.

The people from the National Aquarium and our local Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center are such fun. We especially like their willingness to answer all of our questions about marine science. We get mini science lessons for free! How cool is that?

Cris at the May 2012 planting

Some of the many things learned while working:

The wind can start piling up sand behind each slat of the dune fencing almost immediately. Pretty ghost crabs get really big and, although they generally come out of their burrows at night, you can see them when you arrive in the morning. Dime-sized mushrooms can grow on the beach.

If learning about Cris and Bill’s volunteer experience has inspired you to join us in the field, you can sign up for one of our upcoming restoration events.

When your dive buddy is a zebra shark…

Please enjoy this guest post from Stephanie Richards, a member of the National Aquarium Volunteer Dive Team, and learn about how her experiences with dive safety have impacted her life outside of the Aquarium walls.

When your dive buddy is a zebra shark…

Stephanie Richards receiving her DAN Diving First Aid for Professional Divers certification and coin.

Being a diver at the National Aquarium is an amazing experience. Not only do we get to work in exciting underwater environments, we have the opportunity to share our enthusiasm for the aquatic world and educate visitors about the wonderful animals in the Aquarium’s collection.

The top three questions we get as divers are:
3.)  Is the water cold?
2.)  What happened to the turtle’s flipper?
1.)  Aren’t you afraid to go into the water with the sharks/rays?

We live on a water planet and the National Aquarium’s diverse exhibits reflect that immersion experience. Our ability to safely interact with the animals in the exhibits is based on an understanding of animal behavior and a profound respect for the role predators play in the ocean’s natural balance of life. It is a rare opportunity and privilege to work in these exhibits with animals that are normally only seen at a distance in the ocean. Still, the question about our safety also raises another point. In an aquatic facility as complex as the National Aquarium, what do we do if there is a water emergency?

Everywhere you go in the Aquarium you are reminded of life’s dependence on water, how it unifies us all. In the galleries, guests view the exhibits through a window however, behind the scenes, the tops of these tanks are open which allows the aquarist staff to care for the animals and maintain the exhibit. It also poses a potential water safety hazard. Unless you have had the chance to join one of the Aquarium’s special Immersion Tours, you have not yet seen such behind the scenes sights as: the husbandry catwalk suspended above the 260,000 gallon Open Ocean shark tank, the quarantine pools for new arrivals, or the Pacific Octopus and Electric Eel (that can deliver a substantial shock!) from the top of their respective tanks. Each of these habitats represents its own challenges. Whether it is a small estuary tank or a 1.2 million gallon dolphin enclosure, there is an established safety protocol for each location.

Volunteer Divers at the National Aquarium complete the Divers Alert Network (DAN) Diving First Aid for Professional Divers course, as part of our job as an emergency first responder. The DAN programs and additional safety training are incorporated into everyday life at the aquarium. There are just under 200 volunteer divers and approximately 60 staff divers as well as most of the front line staff that receive this specialized instruction. Knowing how to recognize an emergency, properly use the available rescue equipment, and work as a team are essential skills to a successful rescue. 

My team and I getting ready for a water extraction from the Wings in the Water exhibit

To keep our skills sharp, the dive teams have practice drills in the exhibits during visitor hours. This gives us a more realistic training experience and also demonstrates to the public the importance of emergency training. Performing water rescue extractions from the exhibits (with upwards of 500 visitors watching) over dive platforms and through narrow gates is a true team effort… not to mention the added excitement of working around the occasional curious sea turtle, shark, or moray eel! We are trained how to assist during medical emergencies both in and out of the water. Additionally, there are strategically stationed pieces of rescue equipment; such as Automatic Emergency Defibrillators (AED), water retrieval/floatation devices, and emergency response buttons located throughout the Aquarium buildings.

Aquarium diving is a specialized form of SCUBA. Much like wreck diving, additional training is necessary to be safe in an enclosed and complex environment. Due to the nature of the sport and a desire to keep ourselves and our dive buddies safe, many of the volunteer divers already have some level of first aid certification. The National Aquarium’s required rescue training takes water safety and emergency preparedness to another level. Our Dive Safety Officer, Chuck Eicholz, and his staff have done an outstanding job of ensuring that we have what we need to safely enjoy doing our job. As divers and volunteer staff we are routinely offered opportunities for additional training provided by the Aquarium that benefits both staff and visitors alike.

The events in Baltimore associated with the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that centered in nearby Virginia on August 23, 2011 are a perfect example of the quality and efficiency of the Aquarium’s emergency planning. It was a day when all of the drills and training were put to the test. The entire Aquarium (both buildings in Baltimore) needed to be evacuated quickly and safely. The staff immediately went into action. Every Exhibit Guide knew the planned visitor evacuation routes, the Aquarist Staff saw to the needs of the animals in the collection, and everyone worked together to ensure the safety of all involved.

This safety-oriented mindset applies not just to our work as divers at the Aquarium, but also in our everyday lives. I realized this while chaperoning my daughter’s fifth grade field trip to a waterpark in June of 2011. Suddenly, I realized something was terribly wrong and found myself sprinting across the deck and into the water. A lifeguard was just coming to the surface with one of the children. No whistle, no splash. In fact, none of the other children nearby realized what had happened. As it turns out, one of the students had never been to a pool and the family did not tell the school that she couldn’t swim. On the lazy river ride, surrounded by friends and in only hip-deep water, she had suffered a near-drowning experience.

I was able to assist the lifeguard with the rescue and helped secure the child on a backboard for extraction from the water. It was amazing how fast everything happened and I was extremely grateful to have the training necessary to be of use when it was most needed. Recognizing an emergency, treating someone in the water, extraction with a backboard, basic first aid for shock, and working with the paramedics were all integral parts of my Aquarium training. Being certified to respond to emergency situations changes the way you look at your surroundings. For example, the way I had positioned myself to watch over the children at the pool reflected what I had been taught at the Aquarium. One of the Aquarium’s safety requirements is that there is always a “Surface Tender” present when divers are in the exhibits. This person must be a certified diver, wears a special radio, and is trained in emergency procedures. The Surface Tenders are also friendly, knowledgeable Aquarium volunteers who are available to answer guest questions and assist the Aquarists, but their first priority is the safety of the divers. What I realize now is that, during the field trip, I had positioned myself like a Surface Tender to watch over the children at the waterpark.

While this near-tragedy on the field trip was accidental, nothing about the rescue was. Working with other trained responders, I realized that it was the National Aquarium’s safety-oriented mindset and the comprehensive DAN training I had received that made the difference in my actions that day. You never know when your emergency skills may be needed.

Click here to read a full article, “Skills in Action”, about Stephanie’s pool incident. This feature was recently published in Alert Diver magazine’s winter 2012 edition.

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