Posts Tagged 'volunteers'

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!

Happy National Volunteer Week!

If you’ve ever visited National Aquarium, chances are you’ve interacted with one of our amazing volunteers. They’re in Upland Tropical Rain Forest, pointing out our species of bird and mammal. They’re in  Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes, feeding our archer fish. They’re diving in Atlantic Coral Reef, feeding, cleaning and even dancing to the delight of our guests. They’re behind-the-scenes, they’re out in the field, they’re on-call and well, they’re our family and we wouldn’t be the same without them.

Some of our volunteers help facilitate the daily animal encounters at our Baltimore venue!

Some of our volunteers help facilitate the daily animal encounters at our Baltimore venue!

Together, our volunteers donated more than 119,648 hours of service to the Aquarium in 2012. They came from Baltimore City, the District of Columbia, 17 Maryland counties, and 8 other states and ranged in age from 14 to 94 years old.

Who are our volunteers? The National Aquarium’s volunteer team boasts an incredible array of professions, skill sets, and experiences including doctors, lawyers, teachers, environmental engineers, veterinarians, landscape architects, software engineers, firefighters, police officers, active and retired military personnel, hair stylists, nurse practitioners, media specialists, national security agents, homemakers, scientists, musicians and entrepreneurs, among many others.

Today, this week and every day, we recognize and thank our amazing team for their passion and dedication to our mission!


Masonville Cove Grass Plantings

Baltimore Harbor shorelines are looking a little greener thanks to the work of local students and community volunteers!  The National Aquarium partnered with the Maryland Port Administration, Living Classrooms Foundation, Maryland Environmental Service, and BayBrook Coalition to restore wetlands at Masonville Cove, near the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay neighborhoods of Baltimore City.

On May 14 and 15, more than 6,000 marsh grasses were planted by 187 fifth-grade students and chaperones from area schools at the Masonville Cove wilderness conservation area.  This is one small part of a large-scale environmental restoration of the entire cove, which is creating waterfront access in an area that was once an industrial site.

On May 18 and 19, a second portion of Masonville shoreline was planted with 17,000 wetland grasses!  The Aquarium first brought volunteers to this fringe wetland in October of 2011 to plant salt bush shrubs, and this recent planting completes the shoreline by filling in all of the tidal zones with the appropriate plants.  More than 112 volunteers helped with this effort, including groups from Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove, Baltimore Maritime Academy, Canton Kayak Club and more!

Interested in further volunteer opportunities regarding Masonville Cove? Come to an informational meeting about the Friends of Masonville Cove group on Thursday, May 31, at 5:30 p.m. at the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center. Find out more information below:

Click here for more information about Masonville Cove, including community programming and additional volunteer opportunities. You can also follow Friends of Masonville Cove on Facebook for more information!

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.

Students raise Atlantic white cedar tree saplings

The Aquarium’s Conservation Department recently traveled to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to deliver Atlantic white cedar saplings to students at Stephen Decatur Middle School and Berlin Intermediate School.

Once common in freshwater wetlands along the East Coast, Atlantic white cedars are now rare. Lumber from Atlantic white cedars is highly valued because it has water-resistant properties and is therefore ideal for use in boats, furniture, and houses. Historically, it was also used to make barrels, buckets, shingles, and railroad ties. Overharvesting of this valuable natural resource has decimated Atlantic white cedar populations, and it is now on Maryland DNR’s Watch List.

After learning about the history of Atlantic white cedars and the need to restore them, students transplanted 270 saplings into larger pots. All year the students will care for the juvenile trees in a wet frame pond at their school. Teachers from the school will help students regularly monitor the trees’ progress and learn more about freshwater wetlands. In the spring, the students will join the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT) at Nassawango Creek Preserve to plant their trees.

Owned by the Nature Conservancy, the preserve encompasses more than 10,000 acres and is home to cypress swamps and upland forests. The planting will take place in a 20-acre plot that once served as part of a Loblolly Pine plantation. It was cleared several years ago to make room for native freshwater wetland species and has been the site of four previous ACT planting events.

This project would not be possible without the support of our partners: The Nature Conservancy, Perdue Foundation, Maryland Coastal Bays, Maryland Conservation Corps, and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. We look forward to continuing this project and fostering a sense of environmental stewardship in students by providing them with a unique hands-on experience that helps the Chesapeake Bay.

Reviving wilderness in Baltimore Harbor

The National Aquarium’s Conservation Team has been busy in Baltimore City this fall! The last week in September, we planted 2,100 shrubs at the site of a new wetland along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in Baltimore Harbor. This was the first planting in the creation of the Masonville Cove wetland, which began with the saltbush community. Three different species of salt-tolerant shrubs were planted: hightide bush, groundsel tree, and wax myrtle.

Volunteers planting at Masonville Cove

Volunteers hard at work

We couldn’t have planted all those shrubs without the help of our fantastic volunteers! A total of nearly 90 students from Curtis Bay Elementary and Middle School, Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School, and Benjamin Franklin High School assisted us throughout the week.

Community volunteers also showed up in force, as well—close to 50 people turned out! We even had a group of kayakers with the Canton Kayak Club brave the blustery, winter-like conditions we had one day and paddle out to the wetland.

This project is a part of the revitalization that is taking place in the Masonville Cove area as a result of Maryland Port Administration’s (MPA) new Dredge Material Containment Facility at the Masonville Marine Terminal. It will hold material dredged from the shipping channels of Baltimore Harbor.

In addition to the creation of the wetland, a bird sanctuary, hiking trails, and a fishing pier will be built as a part of the mitigation efforts by MPA. Also, the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center was constructed to serve local students and connect them with their natural environment.

The wetland restoration at Masonville Cove is important for wildlife because it provides habitat, which is very rare in an urban area. At the nearby Fort McHenry wetland, more than 200 bird species have been counted.

Shrubs planted at Masonville Cove

After the shrubs were planted

Restoring the harbor’s surrounding land, like Masonville Cove, back to a natural state will increase the amount of habitat for not only the birds, but also the terrestrial and aquatic life found along the Patapsco River.

With the help of community members and students, we will continue to restore this area to a thriving wetland ecosystem. Work at this site will continue with a wetland grass planting in the springtime, so we hope to see you there!

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