E-Newsletter Articles

September 2013

An Aquarium for all

Accessibility at the Seattle Aquarium

With help from the newly formed Community Engagement department, the Aquarium is making important strides in providing an improved experience for all guests. The department, formed in July 2012, is part of the larger Conservation & Education department and was formed by its director Jim Wharton shortly after he joined the Aquarium, to align with the goals of our strategic plan.

“We realized we didn’t have a role that focused specifically on underserved communities,” says Broadening Participation Coordinator Giovannina Souers, who stepped into her position last fall. “In my role, I look at traditionally underserved populations and work on creating opportunities for them to engage with the Aquarium.”

Her first step was our community ticket program, which provides 30,000 free Aquarium tickets each year to nonprofits who work with underserved populations. “I met with many of these organizations to talk about how we could improve the Aquarium experience and got a lot of great feedback,” notes Giovannina. “People asked for our programs to be brought to their facilities and for tours to be offered in different languages when they come here so they could really understand what they were seeing.”

As a result, the Aquarium is now piloting new programs off-site and offering tour guides and translators for our community ticket partners. Also being tested, and available to all visitors, are ASL-interpreted tours, sighted guides and translators for groups of 10 or more.

Describing one notable success, Giovannina says, “A group of seniors, most of whom spoke Mandarin Chinese, had toured the Aquarium on their own once before and left after 20 minutes because they didn’t understand the exhibits. We invited them back with a translator and they stayed for over two hours. They also told us how much they enjoyed being able to have their questions answered—and wanted to come back again.”

There are many opportunities for donors to become involved in this important initiative. To get started, contact Christie Cotterill at (206) 838-3907 or by email . You can also visit the newly launched accessibility page on our website.

Q&A with award-winning teen volunteer Rachel Kahn

Rachel Kahn

Rachel Kahn, a participant in our recent Creativity in Conservation (CIC) program, didn’t have a lot of videography experience—but she won first prize in a contest sponsored by The Campaign for a Toxin-Free Generation with a simple, powerful video entitled “Do Fish a Favor.”

A teen volunteer and active member of the Puget Sound: We Love You campaign, Rachel created three projects for the CIC program (including a video). She’s entering college this fall and plans to pursue a career in marine biology.

Q: What was it like to combine creativity with conservation in your two video projects?
A: I think that creativity and conservation go hand-in-hand. The most effective way to inspire anything is to present it in a creative and memorable way.

Q: What kinds of conservation messages do you think are most effective in getting people to think and take action?
A: I think people need more than just statistics to be inspired to take action. The most effective conservation messages are the ones that people can relate to, and conservation messages that evoke some sort of emotion.

Q: What would you tell other teens about the importance of caring for the marine environment?
A: The ocean is changing (not in a good way), and it's changing quickly. As teenagers, we have the greatest potential of any group of people to make and inspire change. A lot of the problems that the ocean is facing now didn't exist when our parents were our age, so it will be difficult to make progress unless we educate our elders. If we get in the habit of protecting the marine environment now, we will grow up to be environmentally conscious adults.

Q: What do you think makes programs like CIC, PS: We Love You and the Aquarium’s high school volunteer program valuable?
A: They’re valuable because they take young people who want to make a difference and teach them how. Programs like these can turn an interest into a passion.

Turner Construction improves Aquarium facility

Turner Construction working at the Seattle Aquarium

Turner Construction Company, a longtime partner of the Seattle Aquarium, recently made a donation of labor for one facility improvement per quarter at the Aquarium. To date, 176 hours have been donated, at a value of nearly $15,000. The company has been part of our remodel program since 2007, when we expanded the east end of Pier 59, and also worked with us on the new harbor seal exhibit.

Projects completed thus far include the removal and replacement of the carpet in the Aquarium’s classroom spaces—which also involved the installation of a new subfloor—and in the administrative areas on the second floor of Pier 59. A catwalk below Pier 59, which was lifting with the changing tides and colliding with the pier, was also replaced. Next up is the construction of a stairway to provide access to a loft at the back of Pier 59, a redesign of the volunteer lounge, the building out of more storage areas, and a refresh of finishes in the public restrooms.

“It would have been impossible to do these projects without the people power provided by Turner,” comments Aquarium Facilities Director Alan Maxey. “And not all of these people are carpenters and laborers—they’re office, IT and sales staff, too, which makes this a great team-building experience on the Turner side.” He concludes, “They’re a great partner to work with and want to give back to the community.”

A message from our President & CEO

Bob Davidson

One of the first tasks we set ourselves upon transition to nonprofit management in 2010 was to develop a new strategic plan. With input from staff, board and community stakeholders, the plan was crafted over several months and formally adopted in May 2011; it outlines a set of goals and objectives the Seattle Aquarium aims to accomplish by 2030.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share just two of many notable successes so far:

  • In support of our goal to be the best possible stewards of our animals, we opened our beautiful new harbor seal exhibit on June 1, providing better care for the animals and greater access for our visitors.
  • To further our goal of building our role as an authentic and unique Seattle Aquarium, at the center of the City’s new waterfront, we are developing detailed plans with the City for expansion and improvement of our facility.

If you’d like to see the complete strategic plan, I invite you to read it here.