E-Newsletter Articles

July 2012

Transforming the Seattle Waterfront

Seattle Waterfront

In a public meeting last Thursday night (July 12), the Central Waterfront Committee and landscape architect James Corner presented the latest concepts for a transformed Seattle Waterfront reconnected to the City once the Seawall is replaced and the Viaduct is removed. At this meeting, civic leaders emphasized that this vision is now getting “real” because it includes a timeline for project development over the next eight years and a funding plan that targets a mix of public and private funding; they emphasized that 60% of the funding is already secured or pending. The Central Waterfront Concept Design and Framework Plan has been transmitted to the City Council for review, and will be considered at a July 16 City Council special meeting.

The Aquarium is identified and affirmed as a key element in this new Waterfront Plan. It is targeted for $40-$50m of City investment, with expansion space south of Pier 59 and under the Overlook Walk (which is a new and striking connection to the Pike Place Market) providing for doubling the square footage of the Aquarium over several phases of investment and construction. The construction of the Overlook Walk will vastly increase pedestrian traffic past the door of the Aquarium.

Back By Popular Demand: Plankton Lab returns to the Aquarium

Plankton Lab

Last summer’s successful pilot program, the Plankton Lab, is making a return to the Seattle Aquarium. From July 18 through September 14, visitors will have a chance to take a close-up look at the tiny life forms teeming in our local waters.

“It’s a great glimpse into the diversity of life in Puget Sound,” says Plankton Lab Coordinator Nissa Ferm. “A lot of people don’t realize how abundant the plankton community is.” Plankton are the base of the food chain in the Sound and an important food source for many animals in our local waters. Salmon, for instance, eat plankton as they make their way out of estuaries and begin their journey to the sea.

The lab is purposely scheduled in the summer months, the most active period of time for plankton. The experience begins with a plankton tow: participants head outside to take a scoop from the waters of Elliott Bay. “Even pouring the sample into a cup allows people to see all the little critters floating around,” says Nissa.

Then the group goes upstairs to look at their samples under microscopes — and the real fun begins. Using a key and with help from Aquarium staff, participants can identify various forms of phytoplankton (plant plankton) and zooplankton (animal plankton). “Zooplankton are especially fascinating for people,” notes Nissa. “Creatures we know from our daily lives, like sea stars, crabs and oysters, look amazingly different in the early stages of their lives.”

The experience also provides an ideal opportunity to talk about marine conservation and the issues facing Puget Sound. A particularly timely topic is ocean acidification and its impact on oyster larvae. Corrosive water has reduced our local oysters’ ability to reproduce naturally — to the point that one prominent shellfish company has opened a hatchery in Hawaii and is shipping larvae back to the Northwest to mature. Microplastics, such as those found in face scrubs and hand sanitizers, are also affecting our local shellfish populations. “The tiny beads wash down our drains and find their way to the Sound,” says Nissa, “Then filter feeders mistake them for plankton and eat them.”

The Plankton Lab is yet another way that we engage visitors in our important mission and develop their understanding of the tremendous influence our everyday choices have on even the smallest creatures. It’s offered Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with sessions at 10am, 11am, 12pm and 1pm. To ensure an intimate experience, groups are limited to 20 people per session. Sign up to take part in a Plankton Lab with Guest Services at the Aquarium’s entrance and come see your donation in action this summer!

Time is Money

Volunteer

Some of our biggest donors don’t necessarily have deep pockets, and yet every year they give the Seattle Aquarium more than two million dollars—in time.

Volunteers have been at the heart of everything we do since the day we opened our doors in 1977. It wasn’t until 1993, however, that we started documenting volunteer commitments. Since then, more than 4,000 volunteers have given their time, and we’ll hit our one millionth hour sometime this summer!

When the program first began, volunteers were mostly involved in behind-the-scenes animal husbandry positions. Then, in the early 90’s, the Aquarium hosted its first “interpretation” programs with adult docents at the former “Discovery Lab” touch tanks, and our summer teen naturalists stationed all around the exhibit galleries to answer guest questions and lead tours. Later, as we prepared to open a new touch-tank exhibit, “Life on the Edge,” we established a more formal and robust volunteer program that included a new group of specially-trained adult volunteers: Exhibit Interpreters.

Traditionally, volunteers began as interpreters following training in general biology, interpretation and customer service. They were expected to then commit to being on the floor for four hours per week for a minimum of six months. A smaller subset of volunteers participated in the program as divers, committing to four hours every other week in the exhibits performing routine tasks such as interpreting from underwater, feeding the animals and cleaning the displays. Volunteers who had an interest in continuing their informal education could attend “Aquaversity,” a series of classroom lecture-style presentations that offer more advanced information. And after completing 100 hours working as an interpreter or diver, senior volunteers were eligible to move “behind the scenes” to work with our biologists in Life Sciences.

Recently, however, the program has expanded the list of possible volunteer opportunities here at the Aquarium including assisting educators in the classroom; helping with special events; or doing data entry.

Next to the physical Aquarium itself, our volunteers may well be our most valuable asset. The two million dollars in time they donate every year is the equivalent of about 45 fulltime staff salaries; by giving their time, our volunteers allow us to allocate hard cash to education programs, research projects, and the care and maintenance of our facility. But their impact doesn’t stop there. Volunteers are our frontline ambassadors inside the Aquarium walls, interacting with and educating thousands of visitors every year—and even when their shifts end, they take our message of marine conservation out into the communities where they live and work. They are, in short, an investment with a very high rate of return.

Volunteer orientation happens three times a year, in January, April and September—the next one is coming up soon, on September 22nd. To learn more about volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium, please visit our volunteer page. And next time you are at the Aquarium join us in saying thank you to a volunteer.

Why I: Kathy Krogslund

Kathy Krogslund

This month we’d like to introduce you to Kathy Krogslund, our longest-serving volunteer. Kathy shares with us why she initially volunteered at the Aquarium 35 years ago—and what keeps her here.

“Thirty-five years ago, I saw a notice in the University of Washington School of Oceanography's newsletter stating that the Seattle Aquarium was looking for volunteers. One month later, June 1st, 1977, I started as a volunteer in the Aquarium's water chemistry lab. In 1983, I was invited to join the Seattle Aquarium Board of Directors, and I’ve been here ever since.

So....after 35 years, why am I still here? Because I learn something new every Saturday during my volunteer shift, and because I enjoy working with dedicated professionals and volunteers.

Because I am an oceanographer, and so it’s a natural fit for me to support an institution that demonstrates the importance of marine conservation to the public, and is itself a role model for that mission.

Because as a member of the Board of Directors I have the pleasure of working with colleagues who are business professionals—and now I even understand the financial reports!

And because I still have fun at the Aquarium where I know my time and monetary contributions are appreciated and well spent.”

A Message from our Board Chair

Terry McLaughlin

In a recent issue of the Sunday Seattle Times' Northwest section, two stories appeared above the fold: the first concerned the new Seattle Great Wheel opening on the waterfront; the second was about the increasingly negative impact of Ocean acidification on oyster growers. Both articles made me think of the Seattle Aquarium. Why? Because both capture the essence of what we are about here at the Aquarium.

The Wheel affords visitors and locals alike a soaring bird's-eye view of the land and water that makes this corner of the world so special. Right next door, the Aquarium then takes us below the surface to meet the stunning variety of animals with whom we share Puget Sound and the one ocean beyond. Like the Great Wheel, the Seattle Aquarium offers fun and entertainment—but we do so much more than that. We are dedicated to Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment through education and outreach. We are scientists working to understand the challenges that face our oceans in the coming decades. We are partners with researchers from the University of Washington and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measuring the impact of acidification from instruments installed on our own pier.

According to that Seattle Times article, the shellfish industry in Willapa Bay is struggling to survive. Perhaps one day soon, the research we're doing right here at the Seattle Aquarium will help provide solutions to the oyster growers of Willapa Bay and beyond.