Taking the Plunge: How Aquariums Can Help Build a Public Constituency for the Ocean
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It is widely accepted that America’s oceans are in crisis. They face a barrage of daily threats including habitat degradation, overfishing, and increased run-off from coastal development. However, progress instituting and implementing conservation solutions has been stymied by a lack of public involvement and pressure for conservation measures. Aquariums are uniquely positioned to help build a broad, nationwide public constituency for marine conservation. With millions of visitors each year, aquariums can leverage their educational, entertainment and authority brand to support conservation education, action and policy. Drawing on case studies of three institutions – the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the New England Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium – the purpose of this study is to evaluate challenges and opportunities associated with expanding aquarium conservation programs to promote personal and civic oriented actions aimed at protecting marine resources. The results indicate that while each aquarium has established its conservation niche, other aquariums can follow suit by: 1) focusing their exhibits, education and outreach on a specific biophysical environment; 2) collaborating with a diverse range of academic, scientific and advocacy organizations; 3) formally participating in the governmental process responsible for establishing and implementing State and Federal ocean policy; and 4) recognizing and celebrating the historic legacy of human uses of the marine environment as a way to connect people to and inspire protection of the ocean. These four elements have allowed the Monterey Bay Aquarium, New England Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium to begin building a public constituency for the ocean. It is time for other aquariums to take the plunge.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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