Posts Tagged 'National Aquarium CEO'

An Update from the CEO: Our Future

national aquarium CEO update

As part of our supportive online community, I want you to be among the first to hear about an ambitious and far-reaching project now underway here called BLUEprint, which we have undertaken to design a robust future for the National Aquarium.

As you know, we are at our core a conservation organization that operates one of the nation’s leading aquariums in pursuit of our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. This mission drives the work of our Board, staff, and volunteers, yet we know we must evolve to remain relevant. Through BLUEprint, we are probing the foundation of what it means to be a world-class aquarium, both now and in the decades to come.

We have partnered in this effort with exceptionally talented professionals, led by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang and her world-renowned design and architecture studio, Studio Gang Architects. In addition to creating transformative architecture, Studio Gang employs the tools, methods, and visionary capability of design to catalyze positive change through public engagement and advocacy. We believe their emphasis on work informed by cultural and environmental trends syncs precisely with our design and planning needs.

Here’s a brief overview of the four pillars we are currently exploring in this groundbreaking effort:

I. The future of aquariums worldwide

In the 33 years since the era of modern aquariums began here in Baltimore, we have made quantum leaps in terms of the care we offer our animals, the science that informs our work, and the evolving role of aquariums in the nation and world. We have touched the lives of 50 million guests, many of them students who have grown up with this valuable community resource.

We have also experienced a significant evolution in the audience we serve: it has become younger, more concerned about the health of our planet, and less willing to simply accept the same way of doing things. Our audience of the next 33 years recognizes the urgent need to protect the health of oceans and aquatic habitats worldwide, and we believe we have an obligation to help them learn how they can be a part of the solution.

This has, in part, driven our transformation from an aquarium attraction with a nascent conservation program to a nationally recognized conservation organization that operates a world-class aquarium to carry out its mission. A key part of the BLUEprint inquiry is to identify the core elements of this desired future state and map out the steps it will take to attain it.

II. Reimagining the National Aquarium experience

When it opened, the National Aquarium set a new standard for aquariums, telling a compelling story through its exhibits, creating drama, and evoking powerful messages about the world of water. As it has evolved, the facility has become more diffuse, with three very different exhibit experiences: Australia: Wild Extremes in the Glass Pavilion, the dolphin amphitheater on Pier 4, and the original exhibits on Pier 3. Separated by water and differing exhibit approaches, these experiences have been challenging to unify. This is the central work of the BLUEprint: to weave these exciting but disparate parts together to tell a powerful story of aquatic conservation.

Some of the ideas now in the concept stage include:

  • A “perched wetland” in the slip between our piers to depict the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s quintessential habitats while demonstrating what a healthy, thriving urban waterfront might be
  • A new gallery of exhibits focused on the nation’s 13 marine sanctuaries, which range from Massachusetts to American Samoa in the mid-Pacific
  • A more cohesive visitor pathway
  • Public access to back-of-house zones traditionally off-exhibit, such as our animal care center, marine animal rescue facilities, veterinary lab, and food preparation space
  • A fresh approach that could make the bridge between our piers an exhibit experience unto itself.

Among others, these concepts are now being tested in the marketplace by our predictive analytics firm IMPACTS for efficacy and feasibility. Our objective is to reimagine the National Aquarium experience and implement those changes over the next 10 years.

III.  Designing a new role in the nation’s capital

As you may know, we operated the original National Aquarium in the Department of Commerce Building in Washington, DC, from 2003 until last fall, when it was closed to make way for the U.S. General Services Administration’s $1 billion renovation of its 1930s-era building. At that time, we pledged to find a way to continue the National Aquarium’s presence in the capital, and since then, two compelling ideas have emerged.

The “ocean embassy” idea envisions a program spearheaded by the National Aquarium to bring together ocean advocates, aquarium leaders, and policymakers to perform for the ocean what embassies do for nations: debate issues, promote mutual welfare, negotiate disputes, and represent the interests of their constituents. As a matter of fact, the open ocean comprises 43 percent of the planet, yet it is ungoverned. We believe that such critical ecosystems need an embassy, and our partners at Studio Gang are investigating possible approaches for the idea.

We are also exploring potential collaborations with our colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution; discussions continue and we are optimistic about future partnerships.

IV. The future of dolphins at the National Aquarium

As we develop, evaluate, and refine our plans, our highest priority is to ensure the health and well-being of the animals in our care.

To that end, with a heightened understanding of the emerging science and an intimate knowledge of the eight dolphins in our care, we are studying and evaluating all possible options for providing them with the best possible living environment in the years ahead.

In fact, we began this evolution two years ago with the introduction of Dolphin Discovery, a new interpretive approach to exhibiting our dolphin colony. There are no longer scheduled shows, and guests can come and go from the amphitheater as they please. Now, guests are invited to engage in one-on-one conversations with the biologists who care for the animals, and interaction sessions focus on natural behaviors as an analog for the dolphins’ lives in the wild. These efforts have already garnered us recognition as an innovative leader among aquariums worldwide.

Our next step is to evaluate the most beneficial options for our aging animals, like 42-year-old Nani, who has been with us since the opening of our current dolphin pavilion. There are many issues to consider when planning for the future of these social, cognitively advanced mammals.

Later this month, we will host a summit to convene animal care experts, veterinarians, and biologists to determine the feasibility of a variety of potential solutions, including designing and building a dolphin sanctuary in an ocean-side setting and exploring in detail the requirements for operating such a facility. We will pursue our exploration and address this need with our highest priority in clear view: to ensure the continued health and well-being of our dolphin colony.

Though we have achieved much over our first decades, we are not resting on our laurels. To the contrary, we are embracing these changes enthusiastically as we design a future that will ensure we remain relevant to audiences of tomorrow.

We are pleased to report that even at this early phase of our work, we have caught the attention of The New Yorker magazine, whose May 19 “Innovators Issue” features a story on Jeanne Gang and highlights our BLUEprint project.

Since its beginnings, the National Aquarium has been a proud partner in Baltimore’s renaissance and the Inner Harbor’s rebirth. The reputation we have worked hard to build over these years has earned us the distinction of being one of Maryland’s leading attractions, with a well-documented, positive economic impact on the city and the state.

We take this role seriously. We know it is only possible thanks to the dedication and generosity of our family of supporters, and we thank you for your commitment to our work. We plan to continue to share this journey with you and invite your feedback as our plans evolve.

To sign up for email updates on BLUEprint and to offer feedback and questions, please visit aqua.org/future.

Together, we will attain our vision to change the way humanity views and cares for the ocean. After all, it’s what gives us life.

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A Blue View: Getting to Know Bob Talbot

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 30, 2014: Getting to Know Bob Talbot

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and Bob Talbot discuss
Talbot’s incredible film/photography work!

 

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably seen Bob Talbot’s work. The photographer, filmmaker and environmental advocate has filmed wildlife sequences for everything from “Free Willy” to “Flipper,” and his stunning photographs of whales and dolphins have been reproduced into millions of lithographs and distributed worldwide. (In fact, they’re still considered the most popular series of marine mammal posters on the planet.)

His compelling storytelling technique, combined with the stunning way he captures underwater life through a lens, gives Talbot the opportunity to do what our ocean-dwelling friends cannot: provide a voice that moves people to action. Presented with the Environmental Hero Award, the Ark Trust Genesis Award and the prestigious SeaKeeper Award, he’s dedicated his life to promoting awareness of ocean issues and encouraging conservation of Earth’s resources.

We had the honor of hosting Talbot this past Earth Day (April 22) at the Aquarium, as part of our Marjorie Lynn Bank lecture series, where he shared his experiences photographing and filming some of the world’s most incredible marine animals. Miss Talbot’s lecture? Don’t panic…we recorded it for you!

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our upcoming lecture with humpback whale rescuer Ed Lyman on May 7th! 

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A Blue View: Bringing Back Atlantic White Cedars

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 23, 2014: Bringing Back Atlantic White Cedars

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and Aquarium Conservation
Project Manager, Charmaine Dahlenburg, discuss our
efforts to restore Atlantic white cedar forests!

Historically, Atlantic white cedar forests were common to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Over time, these trees were harvested, and the swampy areas they depend on for survival were drained and replanted with fast-growing loblollies as part of the forest industry to produce lumber and paper pulp.

Excessive logging wasn’t the only reason for the drastic decline of Atlantic white cedars. These trees require low, wet land, like swamps, to thrive, and many of these wetlands have been drained after too many ditches have been put in and caused these areas to dry up.

nassawango creek preserve

Now, the Atlantic white cedar is a rare, uncommon tree that has actually landed itself on the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s watchlist.

Atlantic white cedars are considered a highly-ecologically beneficial plant species. They provide habitat to a diverse array of wildlife, protect our watershed and act as a “sponge” to prevent flooding.

The National Aquarium, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, is trying to bring these unique native Atlantic white cedar forests back to the Eastern Shore.

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved!

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A Blue View: Floating Forests

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 16, 2014: Floating Forests

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
the important role mangrove forests
play in the health of our oceans!

Gardeners in Maryland know that most trees in our temperate climate don’t like having wet feet. And water that’s salty? Forget about it. Around here, having tree roots submerged in saltwater is guaranteed to kill off your landscaping.

But far south of the Chesapeake, fringing tropical and subtropical coastlines, there exist floating forests of mangroves, whose roots grow in a luxuriant tangle at the ocean’s edge. And there, they thrive.

Botanists call the 50 species of mangroves halophylic, or “salt loving.” Mangroves have adapted to putting down roots where other plants can’t: in areas inundated daily by the tide; in thin, nutrient-poor, low-oxygen soils; and in water that varies from fresh to brackish to salty. Just how much salt can mangroves tolerate? Well, typical seawater has a salinity of 35 parts per thousand; in other words, about 35 grams of salt for every liter of sea water. Some species of mangroves can survive in salinities of more than 90 parts per thousand!

To thrive in this salty abundance, these plants need strategies to clear the excess salt. Some species excrete it through glands in their leaves. Others use their roots.

The weird, knobby roots of mangroves actually make traveling to paradise for a tropical vacation possible—tough, woody evergreen mangroves stabilize the soil and prevent many islands from simply washing away.

Thank the mangroves, too, for the colorful diversity of fish and invertebrates you see on your next coral reef dive. Many oceanic and coral reef fish—including snapper, tarpon and lobster—spawn in the nursery provided by the mangrove’s submerged tangle of roots. A mangrove forest is a rich hub of biodiversity, supporting a unique ecosystem of bacteria, plants, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates and birds—some found nowhere else.

Earth’s largest mangrove forest—the Sunderbans of India and Bangladesh—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to at least 250 species of birds, endangered estuarine crocodiles and even Bengal tigers!

In North America, mangrove swamps are found throughout the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas. The largest mangrove forest in the United States is in Florida’s aptly named Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. This special place is home to many endangered species, including West Indian Manatees, and clouds of scarlet ibis and white pelicans.

The scarlet ibis typically inhabits mangrove swamps ranging from northern South America southward along the coast of Brazil, occasionally making visits in Florida.

The scarlet ibis typically inhabits mangrove swamps ranging from northern South America southward along the coast of Brazil, occasionally making visits in Florida.

Although mangrove forests host so-called “charismatic megafauna” like manatees and tigers, truly their greatest treasure may be the thick mud of mangrove leaf litter—fertile with bacteria and fungi—that accumulates in the water below the trees. There, detritivores, like crabs and other animals, feed on decaying leaf litter and contribute to a complex food web that begins, literally, in the mud.

Other microfauna encrust the mangrove’s submerged roots, including a profusion of filter feeding mussels and barnacles. Like Chesapeake’s oysters, mangrove barnacles efficiently filter pollutants from the water.

These crustaceans and mollusks in turn support populations of shrimp and fish that are economically important to Gulf of Mexico fisheries. So, the next time you’re dining on sustainably-caught shrimp, take a moment to thank a mangrove for your meal.

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A Blue View: Clownfish

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 9, 2014: Clownfish

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
clownfish and the important role
they play in the health of coral reefs!

Parents of young children know a thing or two about clownfish. These adorable orange and white fish rocketed to stardom in the animated classic Finding Nemo, which featured an adventurous clownfish hero.

Finding Nemo

Clownfish popularity, however, extends far beyond the preschool set. The movie led to an upswing in their demand within the exotic pet trade – they are now one of the most popular saltwater aquarium fish.

That was the downside of the Nemo-effect. The upside? More people became interested in coral reef conservation. It is an ecosystem of tremendous importance, fragility and interdependence, and clownfish are an indicator species for reef health.

Further, they are truly fascinating creatures. When Nemo’s dad, Marlin, names all of the eggs Marlin Junior, the moviemakers got the science right: all clown fish are born male. Many fish species are able to change sex, almost always from female to male. But the clownfish is different, changing gender only to become the dominant female of the group, and that change is irreversible. In a clownfish group living in an anemone the largest fish is female, the second largest a male. They are the mating pair.

But the adventure story of Nemo’s dad traveling far and wide to find his son? Unscientific. In the wild, clownfish never venture far from their anemone. It’s home…and pantry. It’s this interdependence that has earned the fish their full name: the anemone clownfish.

national aquarium clownfish

The relationship between anemones and anemone clownfish is a classic oceanic partnership of mutualism.

In science, mutualism is defined as a relationship between two species in which both benefit from the association. In fact, clownfish and anemones probably couldn’t live without each other, which qualifies them as “obligate symbionts.”

They couldn’t be more different, yet they need each other to survive. The clownfish is a vertebrate, while a sea anemone is an invertebrate, closely related to corals and jellyfish. And like them, its sting is deadly to most other creatures.

So how does the clownfish manage to live among the anemone’s lethal tentacles? Well, very cautiously. As the clownfish gets to know its anemone, it does an elaborate ballet of tentative darting movements, touching the anemone’s stinging tentacles gently, working up immunity and a protective layer of mucus.

Once they’ve acclimated to each other, they eat each other’s food scraps. The anemone’s tentacles provide the clownfish with protection from predators. The clownfish protects the anemone from predators like the butterfly fish and nibbles the anemone free of parasites. Cozy, right?

But scientists have recently discovered that there is additional complexity to the relationship.

The anemone benefits from the clownfish’s ammonia-rich waste. It’s like anemone fertilizer: it helps the animal grow.

After all, a bigger anemone is better for both; its larger tentacles can snare larger, more nutritious prey and the clownfish gets better leftovers and more spacious living quarters.

There’s also a fascinating nocturnal half to the anemone-clownfish routine. Scientists used to think that at night the clownfish snuggled quietly inside the anemone. But Dr. Nanette Chadwick and her team at Auburn University recently discovered that the clownfish moves around more than was suspected, reminiscent of a dog trying to get comfortable on its dog bed.

The clownfish’s movements oxygenate the water deep within the anemone’s tangle of tentacles. In effect, the clownfish helps the anemone breathe.

Clownfish and anemones literally cannot live without one another. In the sea, as in Hollywood, they call that chemistry!

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A Blue View: Why Turtle Rescue is Important

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

March 26, 2014: Why Turtle Rescue is Important

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and Jenn Dittmar
discuss her team’s important work to
support the conservation of sea turtles!

Did you know that every species of sea turtle in US waters is endangered?

Preserving these amazing and essential sea creatures is of the utmost importance. Every year, our Manager of Animal Rescue, Jenn Dittmar, and her team respond, rehabilitate and release numerous sea turtles found stranded along the East Coast.

national aquarium animal rescue turtle

This year has been another busy season for our Animal Rescue team, with 19 turtles currently being rehabilitated in our facility! Over the last three months, many of our patients have been treated for critical conditions, including: fungal and bacterial pneumonias, infections in their flipper joints and severe shell lesions.

Eleven turtles are now ready for release back into the wild. Aquarium staff is now working with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the state of Florida to schedule a release date.

Get the full story of Chipper, Goose, and Jester, and learn more about their upcoming journey back home.

Want to learn more about what’s threatening sea turtles and what you can do to help? Listen to this week’s interview

national aquarium CEO john racanelli

A Blue View: Inside Giant Clams

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

March 5, 2014: Inside Giant Clams

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
the awesome giant clam!

In the vastness of the ocean, there are many so-called animal to animal symbionts, seemingly odd-fellow relationships from which both species benefit. Finding Nemo made famous one such partnership, that of the clownfish and anemone.

But what about symbiosis between an animal and a plant? Or more specifically, a plant-like alga called zooxanthellae? It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon, especially in the shallows of warm equatorial reefs where there’s abundant light for photosynthesis. Corals, jellies, even sea slugs participate.

And so does Tridacna gigas, the giant clam of the Indo-Pacific, the largest bivalve mollusk on Earth and the world’s only sun-powered clam.
The giant clam hosts a thick layer of zooxanthellae in its tissues and gets up to 90 percent of its nutrition from their photosynthesis. Imagine if we could do that? Just stand outside on a sunny day and photosynthesize? That’s pretty close to a free lunch.

giant clam

The giant clam does its part, too, by providing the zooxanthellae with a habitat protected from hungry predators.

During the day, the giant clam extends its mantle tissue, allowing sunlight to reach the zooxanthellae. In fact, full-size giant clams cannot fully close their shells. You’re less likely to get your foot stuck in a giant clam like in one those ‘50s-style horror movies than to get a hernia from trying to pick one up.

Because of their symbiotic relationship with the zooxanthellae, giant clams can photosynthesize their food like plants, even as they carnivorously filter feed, sieving out plankton from the water as all clams do. No Omnivore’s Dilemma for the giant clam.

And with this abundance of nutrition, giant clams have gone turbo—at least in terms of size. Giant clams grow and grow. In the wild, they can reach a length of four feet, weigh up to 500 pounds, and live for a hundred years.

Scientists have also discovered the giant clam can even “farm” its zooxanthellae. At night, specialized cells called amebocytes search out and digest old algal cells, keeping the “farm” clean and healthy, and in the process aiding the entire reef. The giant clam’s vigorous filtering keeps reef water crystal clear and free of fouling organisms.

But these giants are becoming rare, and near some Pacific Islands, are already locally extinct.

There is a huge demand for every single part of the giant clam. For Pacific Islanders, who rely on the ocean’s bounty for most of their diet, giant clams have been a traditional food source for millennia. The clam’s mantle and dried abductor muscle are considered a delicacy in Asia.

Further, every year approximately 200,000 live giant clams are taken for the ornamental aquarium trade. Their shells are, of course, sought-after as souvenirs. The zooxanthellae make the clam’s mantle look glamorous, in hues of electric blue to malachite green. Each clam’s pattern is unique and has long caught the eye of humans.

To save the giant clam, and the reefs on which they make their home, mariculturists are learning to farm them on Fiji and other islands, much the same way oysters are raised in the Chesapeake Bay. The goal is to reintroduce them into the wild, where they can filter and photosynthesize to their hybrid heart’s content. As happy as clams.

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