President's Blog: Dr. Stephen M. Coan, President & CEO

January 2011

Dear Friend, The New Year begins with much excitement for Sea Research.  In late December we completed the arduous task of restructuring the organization’s  debt, reducing the debt burden by $15 million with the promise of a 125% match for every dollar invested in debt reduction over the next three years.   The Day reported on this story and highlighted the significance of this event for our organization. You can read the story here.   Also in December we had a very successful visitation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) visiting accreditation committee.  The visitation noted the tremendous progress that Mystic Aquarium has made during the past five years in facilities maintenance, guest services, animal care, exhibits and other key areas.  The next step in this process is a hearing scheduled for March 20 at the AZA mid-year meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  At that point, the Association will determine whether to award five-year accreditation to our organization, but the visitation looks promising. I am pleased to report that Mystic Aquarium was re-accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammals and Parks.  You can view the letter from the Alliance here. Accreditation by AZA is an exhaustive process.  They evaluate all aspects of the organization’s health and potential.  Particular attention is given to animal care and also to an organization’s financial situation.   Each year, some organizations are not accredited and need to take remedial actions.  Last year, because of the ongoing discussions relative to debt reduction, I asked the AZA to grant Mystic Aquarium a one year extension of our existing accreditation, which I was very pleased and appreciative that they agreed to.   Thank you to everyone who helped to prepare the organization’s application.  Special thanks to Senior Vice President for Research and Zoological Operations, Dr. Tracy Romano, who shepherded us through the process. My wife Patti joined me in New York City for some events just before the Holidays, including an annual benefit for children, hosted by Trustee Clay Maitland at the Harvard Club.  We were able to stop into the Fox network news studio to see Laurie Macha, Tracy Camp, Jen Flowers and several of our African Penguins as they were interviewed on “Fox and Friends” that morning. Here is the video, and here are two photos.

Tub Time     Adopt a Penguin

 As always, Laurie and the team did a wonderful job.  The program segment highlighted our conservation work in South Africa to protect these endangered animals.  Earlier in the month Laurie Macha and Sarah Misslin went to South Africa to assist our partner agency, the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, in rearing baby chicks who would otherwise die.  This is part of the effort to conserve as many of the animals as possible so as to boost the population.  You can read more about this by following this link.   If you notice a slight stiffness to their walk these days, it is because our penguins have reached star status.  In addition to appearing on the morning shows, they were recently taped on campus for some segments in Jim Carrey’s forthcoming movie, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” adapted from the popular 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater.  Earlier in the month, we were thrilled to welcome Ruff Ruffman, the star of the PBS show “Fetch.”  The show recently taped a segment at Mystic Aquarium featuring Justin Richards and some of our Beluga whales.  As you can see below, my son Brendan and I enjoyed meeting Ruff.

Steve, Brendan and Ruff

The appearance of Ruff Ruffman and other characters as well as the introduction of “Winter Waterland” during the Holiday vacation period is part of an overall marketing effort that is aimed at building back attendance.  While our revenue remains strong, we want to reinvigorate our marketing and advertising efforts for Mystic Aquarium by emphasizing the fun experiences that families and friends can have by being together here.  Senior Vice President for Marketing and Public Affairs, Peter Glankoff, Senior Director of Marketing Andy Wood, and our marketing firm, Caspari McCormick have developed a whole new series of advertising collateral such as these television advertisements which ran during the holidays. Trustee Steve Perrelli, who heads the Marketing Committee of the Board, is always finding ways through which our partner and his company, Coca Cola of Southeastern Connecticut, can be a great partner.  Listen to the wonderful Coca Cola advertisement inviting people to Winter Waterland. All in all it was a very successful week and December was a good month for the organization, reflecting growth in attendance to Mystic Aquarium from numerous key markets.  In January, we will be offering a “buy one adult, get one child free” promotion.  We will also be offering several “thank you” days for the local community.  I welcome your input on other ways to promote guest attendance. Much of today’s focus has been on Mystic Aquarium.  We have also been making great progress with Immersion Learning, The JASON Project, Institute for Exploration and Ocean Blue Catering.  Most notably, under the able watch of Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Denise Armstrong, we completed the transition of The JASON Project from National Geographic Society.  This process included securing health care benefits for The JASON Project employees, which proved to be an arduous task. Work is well underway on installing Crittercam in Challenge of the Deep.  Be sure to learn more about Crittercam here, and watch for detailed programming on the research behind Crittercam coming soon from The JASON Project. Congratulations and thanks are in order to Vice President of Facilities and Capital Projects, Keith Sorensen.  Keith and his team completed the installation of a new power generation system for the campus just in time to receive a $100,000 grant from the State of Connecticut.  Well done, Keith. And at the JASON Project, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Bill Jewell reports that a video segment on the Gulf Coast oil spill was completed just before the holidays.  This segment will become part of the next JASON curriculum “Forces and Motion.” You can view the video segment here. Special thanks to Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell as she prepares to complete her term.  She has been a stalwart supporter of Sea Research Foundation as evidenced by her recent announcement of a $1 million capital grant to the organization.  After several decades of public service, we wish her and her husband well. Patti and I were pleased to spend some time with Governor-Elect Dan Malloy and his wife Cathy in mid-December.   Governor-Elect Malloy will be sworn in later this week, and I congratulate him and wish him well in this new role.  I am very grateful for his continuing interest in the work of Sea Research Foundation and Mystic Aquarium, as well as his understanding of, and commitment, to boosting the state’s investment in promotion of tourism.  I would also like to congratulate Lt. Governor-Elect Nancy Wyman, who is equally supportive and whom I admire greatly.


Last week I had the privilege of hosting Senator Joe Lieberman, his wife Hadassah, his stepson and grandchildren at Mystic Aquarium.  Senator Lieberman is  a frequent visitor, a good man, and has a great sense of humor.  Thank you to all of the staff who made his visit such a great experience. During 2011 we will continue to build this community together.  We have accomplished so much working as a team and focusing on all of our customers – and both our creditors and the accreditors took special notice of this during their visits, as did Governor Rell in her own remarks at the end of her term.  Happy New Year, and I look forward to much continued success with you in 2011! -          Steve Coan