Posts Tagged 'sarah elfreth'

Thoughtful Thursday: 363 Days and Counting

government affairs and policy update

National Aquarium is a 501c3 nonprofit education and conservation organization and does not endorse any political party or candidate running for political office.

Maryland’s environmental community, five gubernatorial candidates, and the running mate of the sixth candidate gathered in Annapolis this week to lay out their visions for future environmental policy if they are elected on November 4, 2014.

Consistent themes throughout the debate (hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1,000 Friends of Maryland) included Maryland’s stormwater fee, transportation, fracking, and the re-licensing of the Conowingo Dam. All issues have a direct connection to the State’s greatest natural treasure – the Chesapeake Bay  and all deserve thorough discussion and debate.

The following is this reporter-for-a-day’s objective coverage of the debate collected from copious note-taking, sporadic live-tweeting, and ruminating over what real reporters have written in such esteemed publications as the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.

The only bit of commentary I will make on the debate is this: I was deeply encouraged to hear a number of candidates speak to the importance of environmental literacy (creating an environmentally conscious and engaged citizenry) – an issue near and dear to the National Aquarium’s heart.

(The following reflects each candidate’s speech in the order in which they spoke.)

Charles County Business Executive Charles Lollar:

If elected, will: Fully fund the Chesapeake Bay Trust fund to the tune of $50 million annually; Address the pollution flowing into the Bay from other states; Engage with governors of other watershed states; Ensure that the important environmental research being done is used to educate Marylanders.

Harford County Executive David Craig:

Enviro credentials: Leader in Harford County on land use and recycling issues.
If elected, will: Support clean air and clean water; Keep farmers working.

Delegate Ron George:

Enviro credentials: Sponsored waterway improvement, energy net reading, and solar energy tax credit legislation while in the House of Delegates.
If elected, will: Establish a long-term plan for the Conowingo Dam; Champion oyster restoration.

Delegate Heather Mizeur:

Enviro credentials: Fourth generation farmer; Sponsored legislation to place a moratorium on fracking while in the House of Delegates.
If elected, will: Defend the stormwater law; Facilitate better dialogue between farming and environmental communities; Develop rural transportation plan; Invest in smart growth; Support a moratorium on fracking.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman:
(standing in for Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who was unable to attend because his father was ill)

Enviro credentials: O’Malley/Brown Administration’s environmental agenda.
If elected, will: Strengthen environmental enforcement agencies; Create tracking system for pesticide usage; Improve public transportation; Mitigate effects of stormwater runoff; Remove “black liquor” from the State’s renewable energy portfolio; Work on community renewables and smart meters.

Attorney General Doug Gansler:

Enviro credentials: Led the charge to have phosphates banned from dishwasher detergent and arsenic banned from chicken feed.
If elected, will: Continue work on environmental justice issues; Strengthen environmental enforcement agencies; Ensure that fracking is completely safe; Protect female crabs and continue oyster restoration projects.

Tuesday’s debate was just a preliminary snapshot of how the six candidates/teams running for governor will approach environmental policy if elected 363 days from today. I encourage all who read this post to peruse each candidate’s website, study their official environmental policy packages (to be officially unveiled for all candidates), and make an informed decision come Election Day.


More Fish, Less Clams: Affordable Access to National Aquarium

government affairs and policy update

I am sure I speak for other Aquarium staff when I say that one of the most fulfilling aspects of our jobs, especially after a rough day, is to live vicariously through our visitors – witness their anticipation as they enter the Aquarium beneath a 35-foot replica of a Maryland waterfall, experience their enthusiasm as they see our new Blacktip Reef exhibit, hear all about the dolphins or sharks from the excited (and excitable) children in the parking garage elevator.

amazing jellies

The Aquarium experience is made even more inclusive as the weather gets colder and the crowds filling the Inner Harbor get smaller. The coming of autumn signals my favorite time of the year – affordable access season at National Aquarium.

Despite our “national” designation, we are still very much Baltimore’s Aquarium. To celebrate our local roots and to give back to the community that has given us so much, the Aquarium is proud to host a number of programs that allow locals to visit their Aquarium for less:

  • Fridays After Five has been a cornerstone of the National Aquarium for decades in the fall and winter as college students visit for the first time, families from around the Baltimore region come back to see what’s new and couples on first dates share a romantic stroll through the world’s aquatic treasures. Visitors pay just $12 on Friday evenings between September and March.
  • Launched last fall, Maryland Mornings provides Maryland residents with $10 off for adults and $5 off for children from September through February, Sunday through Friday, with entrance before noon – all with just a valid proof of state residency.
  • Annual Dollar Days (the first weekend of December) provide access to our more than 17,000 animals for – you guessed it – $1.

So brave the brisk weather, be a tourist in your own backyard and take advantage of these terrific programs. Bring a date, bring a friend, bring the entire family – just don’t forget your driver’s license!


Baltimore’s Grand Experiment – The “Fish Tank” 32 Years Later

government affairs and policy update

*Special thanks to Senator Ben Cardin, whose idea served as the inspiration for this blog post. 

Baltimore’s National Aquarium celebrated its 32nd birthday on Thursday – officially unveiling the new $13 million Blacktip Reef exhibit in a style that invoked the iconic image of William Donald Schaefer wading into the seal tank while wearing a 1920s bathing suit and carrying a rubber duck on August 8th, 1981. Thirty-two years later, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli risked the shark-infested waters for Thursday’s ribbon cutting, officially ushering in a new era of exhibits at the “crown jewel of the Inner Harbor.”

mayor anniversary photo

As anniversaries often do, the commemoration of another successful year offers an opportunity to look back at where things began and how far they have come. It is easy to forget that when the concept for an aquarium in Baltimore’s then-sparse waterfront was first proposed there were those who vehemently opposed its founding and the public support that helped fund its construction. Yet since breaking ground in 1978, the Aquarium has proven that it’s not the floundering fishbowl people imagined, but rather a deep sea of success. Nearly 50 million people have walked through our doors. Of them, 2.5 million Maryland students have been inspired by the 16,000 animals from more than 650 different species that call the Aquarium home. The National Aquarium remains the number one tourist attraction in Maryland with nearly 1.4 million visitors every year. And a recently completed economic impact study  concluded that the Aquarium is responsible for $314 million worth of economic impact and an additional $19 million fiscal impact on the City and State every year.

Given this tremendous contribution to the state, it is almost hard to believe that the National Aquarium was once decried as “frivolous” and just one of the Mayor’s “pets” during the contentious debate over the bond referendum to help fund the Aquarium in 1976. Critics worried that attendance would be low and the resulting reduced revenue would not be enough for the experiment to be self-sustaining (in fact, the Aquarium only planned to host 600,000 people – instead it saw 1.6 million visitors in its first year). Finally, opponents argued that the presence of such a project would not be “essential” to the City of Baltimore.

While I was not alive to witness this debate or Mayor Schaefer’s infamous plunge, a picture of him tipping his straw hat, eyes staring up at the glistening glass pavilion he spent nearly a decade bringing to life hangs on my office wall. It reminds me on a daily basis that, national designation or not, we are still Baltimore’s Aquarium[1]. It was Mayor Schaefer and his Commissioner of Housing and Community Development, Robert Embry, who first dreamed up the idea to attract tourism to the Inner Harbor with an aquarium in the early 1970s. It was Baltimore City residents in 1976 who voted to fund the Aquarium’s construction via a bond referendum. And it was Baltimore’s native son, former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, who led Congress to designate the new facility the “national aquarium” in 1979.

A day after Mayor Schaefer took his dive with an 800-pound seal named Ike, the Baltimore Sun opined: “On Pratt Street yesterday were crowds of people where crowds never existed before.” So here is to another 32 years. Another 50 million visitors. Another 2.5 million Maryland students. Thousands more breathtaking animals to visit. And hundreds of millions more economic and fiscal benefit to the City and State.

Happy birthday, National Aquarium! Apart from crab cakes and the Orioles, I can’t think of another symbol that is more “essential” to the City of Baltimore.

[1] The land and the buildings are owned by the City of Baltimore. The City of Baltimore funded most of the Aquarium’s $21.3 million construction cost. Other major sources include: $7.5 million from City capital funds generated by the sale of Friendship (now Baltimore-Washington International) Airport to the State of Maryland; another $7.5 million from the 1976 bond issue referendum; and $2.5 million from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Commerce Department. The private sector contributed about $1 million.

National Aquarium intern and Towson University student, Kelsey Fielder, contributed greatly to the research and writing of this post. 


Government Affairs Update: My One Year Aqua-versary

government affairs and policy update

This week marked the one year anniversary of my joining the National Aquarium as Government Affairs Manager. It has been an incredibly rewarding rookie year full of challenges, growth, and no shortage of animal encounters. I am undoubtedly most thankful for (apart from being able to hold not one but two baby sea turtles) the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to meet, work with, and learn from here at the Aquarium, in the environmental community, and in the halls of Annapolis.

Now that I’ve officially gotten my feet wet, been in over my head, dived right in, and whatever other cliché, Aquarium-related pun I’ve heard upon telling people where I work, I thought it would be best to reflect on the past year and exactly what I’ve learned. This year has taught me:

  1. Collaboration is key. Whether it is internal or external, government affairs simply would not be successful without a little help from friends. From our amazing Guest Services and Biological Programs staff who facilitate unforgettable tours for public officials to every member of the Marketing team who helps communicate the Aquarium’s advocacy work, I would be lost without the entirety of the National Aquarium team. Our work with other environmental groups in the region, such as Blue Water Baltimore, Trash Free Maryland, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition, just to name a few, ensures that we stay up to date with the latest conservation issues and guarantees that we all have a stronger advocacy voice.
  2. Know your strengths. Maryland, Baltimore, and the entire Chesapeake region are brimming with phenomenal environmental groups that are doing great things to protect our natural resources – but the National Aquarium is one of a kind. We have the opportunity to physically reach 1.4 million visitors annually with our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. Because we are a truly national attraction, the National Aquarium has a $314 million annual economic impact and $18 million fiscal impact on the State of Maryland and Baltimore City that helps boost the local economy. Communicating these unique strengths – and using them for the public good – is at the heart of everything we do. Oh, and did I mention we have dolphins?

    Chesapeake "photobombing" a nice family moment for Maryland Delegate Eric Luedtke.

    Chesapeake “photobombing” a nice family moment for Maryland Delegate Eric Luedtke.

  3. You are never finished telling your story. I probably say the words “well when you have a 32-year old building, sitting on a pier, full of a corrosive material…” about five times a week in order to describe the Aquarium’s very serious capital challenges and subsequent needs. Or, “did you know that more than 75,000 Maryland schoolchildren, teachers, and chaperones visit the Aquarium for free every year?” when discussing the Aquarium’s education priorities. In reality, the life of a government affairs professional is not wholly unlike the film “Thank You for Smoking.” I talk. A lot. Only instead of tobacco, I talk about economic impact, tourism, and sharks.
  4. “Think globally, act locally.” As the National Aquarium, we have an obligation to communicate the importance of the world’s aquatic treasures. But sometimes, especially when working on issues in Baltimore City and Maryland politics, communicating the importance of local treasures such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Chesapeake Bay, and Maryland’s coastline is the start of a larger conversation. For example, what we do to help save the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States and the economic lifeblood of the region, can serve as a case study for similar efforts in Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, or the Mississippi Delta. Similarly, the National Aquarium’s efforts to help pass the shark fin ban bill in Maryland will not only help the sharks off our own coast but will (and has already) inspire others to pass similar legislation.
  5. Stay true to your mission. Above all else, I have learned that the National Aquarium is a private, nonprofit conservation organization with a strong commitment to our community. While giving a tour this morning, one of our talented team members greeted the guests by saying, “Welcome to your Aquarium.” His statement made me pause and consider the brief but powerful message. The original Pier 3 building was constructed using taxpayer funding and the State of Maryland and Baltimore City occasionally supplement a portion of our capital costs. 1.4 million guests and 75,000 Maryland school children, teachers, and chaperones walk through our doors every year (see, I told you I say it a lot). Our conservation work around the state ensures that we practice what we preach on a daily basis. Our advocacy work in the halls of Baltimore’s City Hall, the Maryland State House, and Capitol Hill gives a voice to critical conservation efforts. And our access programs, from Fridays After Five to Maryland Mornings, help ensure that it remains your Aquarium.

It has been a wonderful year – and I’ve only just gotten my feet wet.


Thoughtful Thursdays: Maryland Shark Fin Ban Signed Into Law!

government affairs and policy update

Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill prohibiting the sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins into law this morning, making Maryland the first state on the East Coast to grant sharks this crucial protection.

Governor Martin O'Malley signing the shark fin ban into law.

Governor Martin O’Malley signing the shark fin ban into law.

Our home state has now joined California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington in enacting laws regarding shark finning. Perhaps most exciting of all, the state of Delaware passed similar legislation only last night and New York is poised to do the same in the coming weeks.

Maryland’s law, which will help curb the unjust killing of approximately 100 million sharks every year, was sponsored by Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Eric Luedtke and passed by the Maryland General Assembly with bipartisan support earlier this year.

There are as many as 62 species of shark found off the Atlantic coast of North America (and 12 species found right in the Chesapeake Bay). Because they have few natural predators, are slow to mature and produce very few young, shark populations are very sensitive to environmental and commercial fishing pressures. Their continued depletion could cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems around the world.

The National Aquarium worked closely with the bill sponsors, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Wildlife Federation, Oceana, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and recreational watermen on the issue. The new law provides exemptions for commercial and recreational fishermen, a museum, college, or university to possess a shark fin. The mid-Session addition of an amendment to exempt smooth-hound and spiny dogfish from the bill limits the impact on Maryland’s hard-working watermen yet still protects the most vulnerable families of sharks – large apex predators. The resulting legislation addresses both the supply and demand side of the market for shark fins by prohibiting the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of both raw and processed fins.

As part of our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, we take very seriously our responsibility to educate guests on the majesty and importance of sharks to the worlds’ oceans. We’d like to sincerely thank all those who showed their public support of this ban and Delegate Eric Luedtke and Senator Brian Frosh for championing this legislation through the General Assembly!


A Re-cap of Maryland’s 2013 Legislative Session

government affairs and policy update

Maryland’s General Assembly adjourned sine die last night at midnight, marking the end of the 2013 Legislative Session. All three of the National Aquarium’s primary interests – capital funding, education funding, and a bill to ban the sale and trade of shark fins – were approved by the General Assembly and await Governor O’Malley’s signature. The shark fin bill even received an honorable mention as one of the “winners” of the 2013 session.

The National Aquarium would like to thank the members of the Maryland General Assembly — and particularly our representatives in District 46 — as well as Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Brown for their continuous support of our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures.

Here’s an overview of our legislative activities over the past three months:

National Aquarium receives $5 million in capital funding for new exhibit

The National Aquarium’s request for $5 million in capital funding was approved by both chambers on April 8th. The grant has been earmarked to fund capital infrastructure improvements including the development of a new interactive Atlantic shorelines exhibit.

Read more about the new exhibit the State funding will support here.

Education funding for National Aquarium to admit Maryland school children increased by $154,000

The Governor included an additional $2 million in the State Aided Education Institutions (SAI) Funding budget and the increase was split evenly among the SAI institutions (others include the Science Center, Port Discovery, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation). Despite recommendations to limit the funding increase to all SAI organizations with the exception of one institution, both the House and Senate fully funded the SAI budget at the Governor’s request. We will receive an additional $150,000 ($474,601 in total) in FY2014 to help bring Maryland students to the Aquarium.

Read more about the program here.

General Assembly passes bill to prohibit the sale and trade of shark fins

The National Aquarium’s primary conservation issue – a bill to ban the sale and trade of shark fins in order to curb the killing of nearly 100 million sharks a year – passed both chambers. The Maryland House of Delegates passed HB 1148, introduced by Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery County, by a vote of 119-15 in March and the Senate passed similar legislation – SB 592 introduced by Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery County – by a margin of 41-6 on April 4. Both bills passed with bi-partisan support, with final votes in the opposite chambers occurring before the General Assembly adjourned at midnight on Monday. The legislation now moves to Governor O’Malley for his signature.

If adopted, Maryland will become the first state on the East Coast and the sixth state in the nation to pass a law providing critical protection to sharks, and, therefore, supporting the health of the world’s ocean ecosystem. Other states that have laws in place are California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington – as well as all three U.S. Pacific territories of Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands.

Read more about the issue here.


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