Helping guests “glow up:” a surprise perk of volunteering at the Aquarium

Welcome to the second in our series of blog posts devoted to some of the amazing people who volunteer for the Seattle Aquarium. We’ll be highlighting others in the weeks to come. Interested in becoming a volunteer yourself? Scroll to the bottom for details!

Seattle Aquarium volunteer Aina Hori standing in front of the Aquarium's Life on the Edge habitat.
Aina can be counted on to greet Aquarium guests with a smile during her Saturday shifts as a volunteer habitat interpreter.

When people hear that Aina Hori grew up in Hawai‘i, invariably they assume she surfs. She chuckles at this fantasy, clarifying that yes, the beach was her playground, and no, she didn’t ride the waves. Nonetheless, she loved the ocean, and her appreciation grew on elementary school outings. “In Hawai‘i, a lot of field trips take you to nearby beaches,” recalls Aina. “They build an understanding of where we live and why we have to take care of our environment.”

It was on these excursions, as she interacted with volunteers, that Aina discovered she wanted to be connected to the sea. Her interest developed as she spent hours exploring tide pools and getting familiar with the ocean. Eventually, when she set off for the University of Washington (UW), unsure of her major, she heeded the wisdom of her parents, who advised her to study something she really enjoyed. Luckily, the UW had just established a new marine biology major, and in June 2022, Aina was among 50 students in the first in-person graduating class. This fall, she’s continuing her studies through the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the UW. 

Aina heard about volunteering for the Seattle Aquarium from her classmates and decided she’d like applying her schooling to the real world. On her Saturday shifts as a habitat interpreter, she meets many families with children. Remembering how her experience with volunteers impressed her as a kid, she encourages those who are interested, letting them know a career in marine biology is possible. 

Seattle Aquarium volunteer Aina Hori standing at the Seattle Aquarium Life on the Edge touch habitat, reaching out and touching a sea star with one finger.
Aina loved exploring tide pools when she was growing up—now she helps Aquarium guests discover tide pools animals in our Life on the Edge habitat!

What does she like most about her role? “It’s a pleasure to show visitors who’ve never experienced the Pacific Northwest ecosystem—let alone water because they’re from landlocked areas—that you can get an urchin hug…it has a mouth…it’s an animal…the amount of times that a person’s face ‘glows up’ never gets old!” she says delightedly. 

Between graduate school and volunteering, Aina’s calendar is full. But she still makes volunteering at the Aquarium a priority, as she feels that in addition to increasing her aquatic knowledge, it also enhances her life skills, such as interpersonal communication and being at ease with people from all around the world. And she’s built a network of co-workers and supporters who she can rely on, wherever her future takes her. 

Aware that balancing school and other responsibilities is challenging, she offers this advice for students contemplating volunteering: “Given the Aquarium’s requirements, if you want to help and are limited on time, let them know you’re interested along with your availability and they’ll work with you to find appropriate opportunities.” There are many prospects, including interpretation at evening events and seasonal needs like the Beach Naturalist and Cedar River Salmon Journey programs—positions that might not conflict with classes and other life obligations. 

Seattle Aquarium volunteer Aina Hori looking closely at a small habitat display at the Seattle Aquarium.
One of the many benefits of volunteering is increasing her own knowledge about marine life, says Aina.

Aina’s commitment to the Aquarium is clear: she’s given more than 230 hours of service in her three years as a volunteer. One of the key reasons she loves being a habitat interpreter is that she helps visitors realize that each individual can make a difference to our environment. “I keep volunteering because, by sharing, I create a fascination so people care and want to help change the world for the better,” she says.

Ready to join Aina in sharing the Seattle Aquarium’s mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment? Register for our upcoming volunteer orientation today! You’ll find all the details on our volunteer webpage

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