Last month Mystic Aquarium was accredited again by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This is a testament to the wonderful work and tireless dedication of our staff and volunteers. Accreditation involves an exhaustive process, including review of the facilities, personnel, policies, procedures and track record of the organization.
Congratulations to the entire Mystic Aquarium community for this outstanding accomplishment.
In April, Mystic Aquarium opened a major new exhibit, “Exploration: Wild”.
The exhibit takes guests through nearly all of the major ecosystems on our planet: the rainforest, the arctic, deep oceans, wetlands, and a desert.
Four large American Alligators are featured, along with various amphibians and reptiles. The American Alligator highlights the conservation theme that runs throughout the exhibit. American Alligators were near extinction a little more than a decade ago. Today, the population has rebounded to healthy levels, a remarkable testament to the impact of aggressive conservation and animal protection efforts.
We are also very pleased to introduce the National Geographic Theater within the exhibit. This new theater gives us the opportunity to show our guests some of the amazing films and documentaries that National Geographic has produced. Currently, two National Geographic features are showing there, “Sea Monsters” and “Mysteries of the Unseen World.”
While the American Alligator is a great success story, many hundreds, perhaps even thousands of animals are in danger of becoming extinct. Sharks, often reviled by humans, are but one example. In most of the ocean, sharks are a keystone species whose survival is critical to their entire ecosystem.
Yet sharks are routinely hunted for sport, killed out of fear, or taken for their fins through a process called “shark finning”. Shark finning is the practice of cutting off a shark’s fins, while the animal is still alive, and then throwing the rest back into the ocean to die. Not only is this practice horrific and inhumane, its prevalence has also led to a decline in shark populations around the world.
Shark fins are considered a delicacy in some cultures. The most common use for shark fins is to make a soup, although there are other uses as well.
While the act of shark finning is banned in the United States, in most states, the sale and possession of shark fins is not. In recent years, several states have passed laws to ban possession of shark fins.
Mystic Aquarium has joined with the Humane Society to advocate for passage of such a ban in the State of Rhode Island. We hope to do the same in the State of Connecticut in the coming year.
For more information and to see the status of this Bill, click here: RI Bill H5477
Best wishes to you and yours as the joy of Spring ascends!
- Steve Coan
Hopefully all of you are well. I missed you during my blog hiatus!
Let me begin by sharing with you some of my musings that have appeared recently in The Huffington Post The first one is about "Miss America" who was featured on our new JASON Live interview series, and the other focuses on research being conducted at Mystic Aquarium by Dr. Peter Auster.
~ Seeing Is Believing
~ The Invisible Fabric of Nature
Much of our priority in 2014 is raising funds for the new Ocean Research and Conservation Center. We were honored to receive notification from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation recently of their commitment of $250,000 for the project. So far, we have raised about $1.7 million of the $4 million goal.
JASON Learning was the recipient of a $750,000 grant from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. This grant will allow is to expand use of JASON throughout Louisiana and to develop curriculum focusing on the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. JASON also announced a new partnership with the American Association of School Administrators. Congratulations to JASON Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Eleanor Smalley. Here is a link to the announcement.
A few weeks ago, our partner, Aquarion Water Company, hosted an event at the Barnum School in Bridgeport to showcase a new Beluga cam. Many dignitaries were there and Executive Vice President Dr. Tracy Romano gave a wonderful talk. The star was Juno. But the heroes of the event were the Mystic Aquarium technology team: Director Jim Meyers, Bruce Cousineau, Elana Deslandes-Murphy and Jeff Glennon.
Our community is deeply saddened by the passing of Naku, a beloved Beluga, just a few weeks ago. A special thanks to her caregivers, especially Kristine Magao and her team.
We received so many beautiful statements of how Naku touched people's lives, but this one stands out. A Grandmother wrote to me from Fort Meyers Beach, Florida. She said: "Naku was a very important influence in our grandson's life. We had a membership at Mystic Aquarium during the years that we lived in Connecticut and Rhode Island and we often took our grandchildren to experience your amazing facility. Our youngest grandson, Ethan, was convinced that Naku was his special friend. Ethan is very sad over the loss of his special friend. I can't help but wonder how many more children were touched by Naku."
I promise to write more often! Thanks for listening and see you soon.
We have had some wonderful events and achievements over the past few weeks.
The weather certainly has been beautiful and attendance at Mystic Aquarium has been excellent. Participation in our JASON Learning program has also increased. After instituting a gated website last July, JASON Learning officially passed the 2 million mark for paid participation.
It appears that we are on track to meet revenue and expense requirements for closing on the refinancing of our long-term debt. Thank you to everyone in our community for being so positive, supportive and solution driven during a difficult budgetary period.
We hosted over 1,000 runners for the Annual Run or Walk for the Penguins. This is the 7th year for this event and it gets better every year.
The event raised over $45,000 to support conservation efforts for African penguins, including partnership activities with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in South Africa. Thank you to all who volunteered to work at the event, as well as those who ran or walked.
The next day, Ocean Blue Catering hosted its first Bridal Expo. The show brought more than 200 people to campus to meet with various vendors, to see our beautiful facilities and to taste the wonders of our Ocean Blue Catering cuisine. I must say that many of the young, soon-to-be newlyweds looked a bit nervous.
Special thanks to Kathy Lloyd, Director of Sales for Ocean Blue Catering. She put enormous effort into making the event a success. The Ocean Blue Catering team consistently delivers exceptional service and their dependable great work often goes unsung. In addition to catering and food service, the Ocean Blue team, under the leadership of Vice President Will Parks, oversees retail, photography and other businesses. They manage ticket sales to hotels and the reservations functions for all on-campus programs.
Meanwhile, in the Marine Theater, a wonderful new Halloween show was introduced. The show was a smash hit. Congratulations to Toni Loschiavo and the Marine Theater team.
My own in-family critic, Brendan Coan, age 9, gave the show three thumbs up! Here are some images:
Last Monday and Tuesday I was in New York City visiting with some of our Trustees and donors, including Trustees Tim Kane and Jamie O'Connell, and President's Councilor Ghislaine Maxwell. I was joined by our new Major Gifts team of Jeanne Ireland and Matthew Vangieri.
Jeanne is known to most of us as a Supervisor in Guest Services. She has an interesting background including being one of the first female cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy. She worked in development and the annual fund at the Springfield Symphony before coming to Mystic. I am quite excited to be working with her in the next phase of our fund raising efforts. I also want to congratulate her on being November's Employee of the Month!
Matt’s background is primarily in social work with the Department of Children’s Services for over five years. He also has a background in business. He has been very involved as a volunteer for many causes, including the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). Recently, while in Washington, DC, he took me to an event at the National Press Club for the organization. It was great to meet some of the leaders of this important effort. I also had a chance to say hello to former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank who was being honored. Congressman Frank was quite supportive of Mystic Aquarium’s ongoing commitment to the New Bedford, Massachusetts public schools.
Jeanne and Matt join Vice President of Development Megan Brown in building a strong and effective fund raising program for the organization. Since 2007 the organization has raised $50 million; $20 million of that has been over the last three years.
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of hosting the second of several staff luncheons that are planned. The luncheons are an opportunity for me to thank our staff for their dedication. I am very appreciative of our Human Resources team, led by Kateri Wheeler. They are always looking for new ways to improve our work environment and sense of community. The small and large ideas that have already emerged from these luncheons are very helpful and productive.
One idea that emerged from the last Town Meeting that we held, was to provide complimentary access to friends and families of staff. Director of Membership, Jackie Almeida and Human Resources Director Kateri Wheeler developed a plan. Regular Staff, and Volunteers with over 50 hours, will receive a free Aquarium membership. The free admission tickets will still be given out, so you can bring more of your family and friends to the Aquarium.
Our next Town Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 19th. We have much to report on in response to your input at the last session. Please bring ideas and suggestions - they are deeply valued and important.
In the meantime, I am currently in Singapore, visiting with Trustee Tan Hee Teck and working with the team at Marine Life Park and the South East Asia Aquarium. We look forward to continued partnership with our friends in Singapore in the development of exhibits, animal husbandry, educational programming and ocean exploration.
Recently I have prepared several Op Ed pieces in various publications to showcase our work. Topics have included our work in animal stranding and STEM education. They have appeared in several publications, but most can be viewed on the Huffington Post via this link www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-m-coan I welcome your ideas for other Op Ed topics featuring our mission or topics of concern related to our mission.
When I return we will be hosting our annual November Board of Trustees meeting. This year it will take place at Foxwoods Resort Casino. We are very fortunate to have the leadership of Trustee and Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, Rodney Butler. We are also fortunate to enjoy a strong partnership with Foxwoods.
At the November meeting we plan to launch a process for Strategic Planning that will be led by Trustee Dr. Alfredo Gutierrez and President's Council Chairman, Dr. Joseph Cronin. We have accomplished most of the objectives set forth in the 2007 Strategy, including correcting the financial platform of the organization. A new Strategic Plan will guide us as we take on an exciting future and refocus on our mission programs.
Many thanks to all of you for your continuing dedication and support. See you all soon!
Let me begin by apologizing for the long silence in my blogging.
September has been a bit of a whirlwind. The month began with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums annual conference in Kansas City.
The keynote speaker was our own Dr. Robert D. Ballard. As always, he gave a remarkable speech on his work in deep ocean exploration. In my introduction to the General Assembly, I said that what makes Mystic Aquarium unique is that we have Beluga Whales and Bob Ballard!
Dr. Ballard’s talk was very well received. All week people were coming up to me and telling me that I am lucky to work with him. I don’t disagree, of course, but I had to reply, “He’s pretty lucky to work with me, too!”
Andy Wood and Kelly Matis both gave excellent workshop presentations during the conference. Also, Gayle Sirpenski was officially appointed to the Association’s Ethics Board.
The next week I spent two days in Gulfport, Mississippi. Meetings included several school superintendents and corporations. We are seeking to build a strong base for JASON Learning throughout the United States and globally.
We are giving particular emphasis to the Gulf of Mexico. In doing so, we are building broad and deep relationships with institutions in Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. These relationships include Texas State Aquarium, Harte Research Center, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Monterrey Technical Institute, Houston Museum of Natural Science, and Mote Marine Laboratory, to name a few. Hopefully, through JASON Learning, we will find connections that strengthen the overall mission of Sea Research Foundation in research, exploration and education.
It takes what I like to call “shoe leather” to build lasting collaborations. However, such collaborations are key to the future of our organization and will lead to joint funding in many of our operational areas including JASON Learning.
This past week I was in Australia. Congressman Joseph Courtney and the United States Department of Commerce hosted a trade mission for Connecticut businesses. My trip, along with Jeremy Urquhart who is part of the JASON Learning team, was generously subsidized by the Department of Commerce.
Australia is second to Texas in the number of JASON participants. So it was particularly important to take advantage of the trade mission to renew ties with teachers and others. We also used the trip to promote tourism in Connecticut.
Tony Sheridan, President of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce joined me at several meetings including the Sydney Aquarium, the Sydney Maritime Museum, Education Services of Australia and the National Zoo. We also met with United States Ambassador to Australia - on the very day he was sworn in!
Ambassador John Berry knew quite a bit about JASON Learning and Mystic Aquarium. He served as Legislative Aide to Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer for many years before joining the Obama Administration and then being named Ambassador.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, I was greeted by a U.S. Customs agent, who shook his head and said. “Four days of flying for five days of meetings?” It was a very productive trip – and worth the effort, for sure.
In between some of these ventures was our annual gala, Ocean Commotion, which took place on September 21st. Kudos to Co-Chairs Susette Tibus and Eric Janney. Also, special thanks to Vice President of Development Megan Brown, the committee, and the many staff who assisted.
Ocean Commotion grew this year from 350 attendees to 515 thanks to a large party tent installed in our parking lot. The event raised $600,000, a new record. The Ocean Blue catering team did a spectacular job and the entertainment by The Midtown Men (the original cast of The Jersey Boys) was a smashing success.
Senator Dick Blumenthal was on hand to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mystic Aquarium. He was joined by Trustees, President’s Councilors, State Senator Andy Maynard, and many others.
Co-Chairs Eric Janney and Susette Tibus
Under the Tent
EVP Peter Glankoff, Trustee Rodney Butler, Senator Andy Maynard
Senator Richard Blumenthal
The Midtown Men
Executive Vice President Peter Glankoff, as most of you know, is leaving us to move to New Mexico. We held a tribute to Peter on September 16 with a little bit of a roast as part of the festivities. Chairman of the Board, Dr. George M. Milne, Jr. noted that during his tenure Peter has led the organization towards increased attendance and the use of sophisticated metric driven analysis of our advertising efforts.
Thank You and Consideration from Chairman of the Board, George M. Milne, Jr.
No More Ties!
Steve Inherits Peter's Ties
Peter with his signed photo, cake and Golden Watch (in the form of a National Parks Pass)
Peter, you will be missed!
Special congratulations to Janelle Schuh, Jill Reeves, Kristen Bachand, and Alyssa Potter, who have been awarded the Dick and Tracy Scholarships to pursue degree programs. Some years ago, I was speaking at an All Staff meeting about the need for scholarships to assist our staff and volunteers. Volunteer Dr. Dick Katz approached me a few days later and established the Dick and Tracy fund. He wanted to pay particular tribute to former Coordinator of Volunteers Tracy Sullivan in his naming of the fund.
Finally, I am extremely pleased to announce that Sea Research Foundation has been chosen from over 600 Connecticut employers as one of the top workplaces in the State. In fact, Sea Research Foundation was cited 14th best workplace among medium size companies in Connecticut.
Congratulations to our staff. A great workplace is possible only with a great staff. And our staff is the best anywhere!
I would like to provide you with an update on our precocious harbor seal pup patient that has been in the news recently. You may have heard of Pup 49, as she has been featured on news outlets throughout the country. It is a remarkable story that goes right to the heart of what Mystic Aquarium and our dedicated staff and volunteers are all about.
In mid-July 2012, this young pup was found stranded and injured on a beach in Plymouth, Mass. Knowing of the extraordinary rescue and rehabilitation team at Mystic Aquarium, New England Aquarium transferred the animal to our care. Below is a description of her diagnosis and treatment from our veterinarian Dr. Allison Tuttle:
When my team and I first examined Pup 49 (so named because of her rehabilitation identification number), she had a respiratory ailment and some wounds, the worst being to her left rear flipper. We believe she had been bitten by another animal, likely another harbor seal. The flipper was badly damaged and infected. Through radiographic examination, we learned that the infection had spread to her bone. The antibiotic regimen she was receiving could not by itself stop the spread of the infection. In order to arrest the spread, we concluded that the only course of action was to surgically remove the infected flipper.
The operation was performed successfully by Mystic Aquarium’s veterinary team and Pup 49 has recovered completely. With the loss of a powerful rear flipper, she has to compensate with her left front flipper to swim. While able to swim in her pool, she lacks the speed and agility required for survival in the wild. As a result she has been deemed non-releasable by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
Today, Pup 49 resides in our Aquatic Animal Study Center at Mystic Aquarium, fascinating guests who learn her story and watch her from our observation deck. Pup 49 receives the same high-quality diet and care afforded our other animals, and we have constructed a special ramp that allows her access to the floating dock when she wants to get out of the water. I am very pleased to report that we received word just today that Pup 49 will remain permanently at Mystic Aquarium and eventually join our other seals in our Pacific Northwest exhibit! You can click on this link to view one of the many Pup 49 stories: http://bit.ly/14Ba5HV.
I write about the team at Mystic Aquarium in terms like remarkable and dedicated, and perhaps I am somewhat biased, but this is one of hundreds of equally important stories that are part of Mystic Aquarium's 25-year animal rescue legacy. From sea turtles, to pilot whales and several species of seals, our East Coast network of stranding volunteers respond to sightings of stranded and injured marine animals. Our 24-hour hotline at Mystic Aquarium gets the call, and our team goes to the site to assess the situation and make a determination about what can be done. If the animal is alive and can be rehabilitated, it can be taken to our Rescue Clinic for treatment and released back into the wild when it is ready and can survive on its own. Perhaps you have joined us on one of our many seal releases at a Rhode Island beach. Every one of these releases is a heartwarming cause for celebration, as those who participate know so well.
None of this work, from the rescue, to the care and feeding, to the specialized medical treatment comes easily -- or cheaply. With cutbacks and the loss of a substantial grant last year, Mystic Aquarium has had to rely increasingly on donations from friends like you who care about protecting our ocean planet and its marine creatures.
You can make a real difference in rescuing, rehabilitating and -- most often -- returning these amazing, precious animals to life in the wild.
- Make a Donation: The rehabilitation of the harbor seal pup mentioned above, cost more than $9,000. Your gift of $50 will feed our seals for five days; $100 will purchase the life-saving medications needed for one animal; $3,000 will purchase a satellite tag to track released seals as part of a groundbreaking research effort.
- Attend our Event: Purchase tickets to Mystic Aquarium’s Seals on the Rocks event on Friday, June 28 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., a fundraiser for our Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Program.
Now that we know Pup 49 will be a permanent Mystic Aquarium resident, we need your help naming her. Coral, Grace, Hope, Madison and Mystic, all names of harbors, were selected by Mystic Aquarium volunteers who cared for Pup 49 during her rehabilitation. Cast your vote for your favorite name now at http://svy.mk/ZmNk2x.
Thank you for your support. We look forward to having you join us in the legacy of caring that infuses everything we do at Sea Research Foundation and Mystic Aquarium.
I want to share with you the letter below from the former Executive Director of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, who visited Mystic Aquarium recently:
It’s very nice to receive these kinds of letters as they serve as a great source of encouragement and affirmation for all of us in our work.
At this writing, I am in Singapore attending the grand opening of Resorts World Sentosa including Marine Life Park and the Southeast Asia Aquarium (S.E.A. Aquarium). Congratulations to the entire staff of Resorts World Sentosa, especially Dennis Gilbert, Senior Vice President of Attractions, and Robin Friday, Vice President of Marine Life Park and S.E.A. Aquarium.
My special congratulations to Tan Hee Teck, President and CEO of Resorts World Sentosa, for his leadership and vision. He is deeply committed to assuring that Resorts World Sentosa makes a lasting contribution to education and research in particular, and to a broader understanding of the world’s oceans in general.
I am honored that we have established a long-term partnership. Over the next several years we will focus this partnership on bringing JASON Learning to Southeast Asia, joint biological research programs, and joint efforts in support of the E/V Nautilus and its ocean exploration activities when it moves to the Pacific region in 2014.
Thank you Erin Merz, Kelly Matis, Mary Ellen Mateleska, Peter Glankoff and Dr. Joe Cronin, for working closely with Resorts World Sentosa over the past year to develop educational programming, public outreach, and refinement of exhibits.
The interpretive signage, educational programs and exhibits at S.E.A. Aquarium, which our team helped create, are truly outstanding. This new facility, similar to ours, combines maritime history, exploration, and a view on marine life
The grand opening event was attended by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong who was treated to a demonstration of some of the new educational programs available at S.E.A Aquarium and co-developed by our team.
Sentosa Island is connected to the main island of Singapore (which is essentially a modern city-state) by a bridge and a monorail. Resorts World Sentosa has been built on the smaller island to increase tourism to Singapore. The complex is massive and includes a Universal Studios theme park (the new Transformers 4D ride is incredible), a casino, restaurants, a Malaysian food village, a Maritime Museum with replicas of ancient ships that guests can board, a waterpark, dolphin experience, aquarium, restaurants, world class spa, shopping, hotels and various shows and other entertainment.
Singapore is one of the most vibrant economies in the world. It is a financial center and it has the largest shipping terminal in the world. All around the nation one can see massive ships docked and waiting to load or unload at Singapore’s piers.
In the image below you see a tramway that goes between Singapore and Sentosa. I rode that last January with Trustee Tom Mosey, and then we lingered on the Singapore side and missed the last car back to Sentosa resulting in a “you can’t get there from here” experience of trying to get back to Sentosa.
You can see the massive port operations and ships in the background of the image. In the middle of the picture is the Hard Rock Hotel and in the foreground is the water park. The aquarium, dolphin experience, and Marine Life Park (the water park) operate in a very complimentary way, with educational programming surrounding each.
Marine Life Park includes a coral reef tank where guests can snorkel. The following image shows the tank, which can accommodate about 100 people at a time comfortably. It looks like a great experience!
Guests enter the S.E.A. Aquarium through a maritime museum which tells the story of the Tang Dynasty’s dominance on the seas. Armadas of hundreds of ships, including massive frigates and water tankers carrying fresh drinking water to last for years, would set out on journeys throughout Asia and to Africa. In the museum, one gets a sense of the size, ingenuity, brilliance, and dominance of this seafaring culture.
The museum experience culminates in an incredible 360 degree, 4D show experience that immerses one in the life and mission of the crew of these armadas, who, confronted with a typhoon, are hurtled to the depths of the Pacific Ocean where they perish and where their treasure and ships settle in the valley of a Sea Mount.
The aquarium experience begins from there, bringing focus to Sea Mounts and the creatures that live within them and interweaving stories of the maritime culture of Southeast Asia with its natural beauty, reef systems, animals and conservation struggles.
Inside the S.E.A. Aquarium there are two tunnels where guests can walk underneath the tanks.
The hallmark of the S.E.A. Aquarium is a massive (the world’s largest) window to the Open Ocean and Sea Mounts exhibit. The Open Ocean exhibit features leopard sharks, goliath groupers, and a squadron of huge mantra rays. My favorite, however, are the Napoleon wrasses. They are huge and they look grumpy!
Here is a familiar sight - a touch tank swamped by people young and old!
Our team has learned a great deal from the experience of working in Singapore, and we look forward to many years ahead as we build a foundation of ocean related research, education and exploration in Southeast Asia.
Recently I sent the following note out to our staff and volunteers. I want to include it in this posting:
The Board of Trustees has approved three changes that I want to call your attention to:
1. The Institute for Exploration brand is being replaced with a new name, "Ocean Exploration Center" to bring synergy between the work of Dr. Robert Ballard, his Exploration Vessel Nautilus, and the guest experience and outreach activities related to deep ocean exploration at Mystic Aquarium. I am pleased to report that Dr. Robert Ballard has renewed his relationship with Sea Research Foundation for the next five years and that we have signed a long-term partnership with the Ocean Exploration Trust, an independent organization responsible for the ship, that provides exclusive access to Exploration Vessel Nautilus in the K-12 and public exhibit arenas. The new name will improve our ability to explain this important relationship and to grow our collective programming.
2. Immersion Learning has been formally merged with the JASON organization, which is operated as an independent non-profit organization governed jointly by Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic Society. JASON will continue the tradition of Immersion in focusing on the needs of youth in the after-school hours and within at-risk communities in addition to other K-12 programs that JASON offers. Katie Cubina, Senior Vice President for Educational Programs, and her staff, have assumed responsibility for all curriculum development within the merged organization. It is important to note that JASON will continue to offer all existing Immersion branded programs and products for the immediate future.
3. Beginning on January 1, 2013, Sea Research Foundation will replace the Immersion Learning brand with a newly developed "JASON Learning" brand to reflect the organizational change above.
In summary, on January 1, 2013 Sea Research Foundation will include Mystic Aquarium, Ocean Exploration Center and JASON Learning as well as Ocean Blue Catering.
On Tuesday, December 18th, I will host our quarterly Town Hall Forum in the Main Gallery at Mystic Aquarium for all Sea Research Foundation staff, volunteers or interested members of the community. It begins at 7:30 AM and will end by 9:30 AM with continental breakfast included. Sea Research team members from other locations will receive details on how to connect electronically, and are best advised not to take instructions from this writer on that topic.
As many of you know, including two of our staff who were there for our own grand opening, 2013 is the 40th anniversary of Mystic Aquarium. We plan a wide range of fun activities and events to mark this important milestone. In the meantime, I can think of no better way to celebrate the end of 2012 and the Holiday Season than to take a minute to ponder the following image of Juno and Saxophone Santa, taken by Abby Pheiffer. This image is making it way around the nation and the world, as reported by Erin Merz, our Manager of Media and Public Relations, and no doubt bringing smiles to many faces.
WTOP in Washington D.C.
Beaumont Enterprise (Texas)
Cover of the Bedford Gazette (PA)
I look forward to celebrating with Aquarium staff and volunteers at our Holiday Party on January 24th. Watch your email for more details on that.
Best wishes to all, and to all a good night!
The “Town Meeting” last week was very productive for me, as I hope it was for you. In today’s posting I would like to answer several questions that were raised during the meeting.
Uniforms for Staff and Volunteers
Immediate steps are being taken to introduce options for headgear including a wide-brimmed uniform hat. Uniform styles (shirts, etc.) will be evaluated to see how we can better accommodate the changing needs of our staff.
Tattoos and Body Piercings
This is clearly a cultural and generational issue that we need to address. Our current policies have tried to balance the perceived expectations of guests and customers with current trends. While it seems like it is a straight forward issue, it is not as clear cut as one might think. I have asked several members of the Management Team to make recommendations on this issue with the intention of being more accommodating of staff – and of new cultural trends – where tattoos and body piercings are commonplace. As I stated at the Town Hall meeting, as an organization Sea Research Foundation must find ways to embrace and attract diversity to our staff and volunteers to better reflect the changing profiles of our guests and customers.
Recycling and Conservation
Recent promptings by staff indicate a need for a more aggressive approach on our campus. As reported, Assistant Director of Facilities Ken Backofen and “The Green Team” will be introducing new customized multi-recycling receptacles and signage in the Fall of 2012. There is no debate on this issue. Sea Research Foundation must lead by example with state-of-the-art recycling and conservation measures. Additionally, as suggested at the meeting, Vice President for Business Development Will Parks has secured agreements with our retail vendors to switch to fully recyclable paper bags and to eliminate use of plastic bags also by Fall of 2012.
The question raised during the Town Meeting regarding the increasing cost of the employee share of health care was discussed at the Management Team Meeting last week. With the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act we will be in a better position to predict next steps for health care coverage in 2013. We anticipate another jump in pricing but we are aggressively investigating options including joining in a health care buying consortium or increasing the employer contribution to Health Savings Accounts so that employees can purchase insurance on the newly mandated and state based “health care exchanges”. As noted during the meeting, the high cost to Sea Research Foundation and JASON Project employees reflects the fact that we are a relatively small cohort and have been unable thus far to expand our pool by collaborating with other organizations in purchasing health care plans. This is due to restrictions by providers. Within our cohort we naturally have individuals who smoke or who have pre-existing conditions which raises the premiums for everyone. I share that not to make anyone feel guilty, but rather to point out how unfair the current system continues to be for small businesses like our own. We will aggressively seek alternatives for 2013, and we continue to encourage all staff to utilize our health programs including Weight Watchers, the Employee Assistance Program which can help with smoking, alcohol or other habits and addictions, and to take time each day to exercise. These efforts reduce health care costs for everyone. Each person in our organization can make a difference for all by staying fit and healthy, and making positive lifestyle choices.
Thank you to everyone who organized and participated in "Seals on the Rocks" last Friday night. Simultaneously, we were hosting the 2nd Annual National Educators Conference at George Washington University for the JASON and Immersion Learning educators.
Special thanks to Dr. Eleanor Smalley and the JASON Team for their efforts in making that a success. Meanwhile, Mary Ellen Mateleska is in Singapore continuing to build educational programs for our collaboration with the Marine Life Park.
I end today with video clips describing our work there:
Best wishes for a wonderful 4th of July. Let's be sure to remember all who are serving our nation as we celebrate independence and the freedom which we cherish as Americans.
Two weeks ago I was privileged to be at the 20th anniversary of the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. I went, in large part, to honor the work of President’s Councilor Robbie Callaway, who was one of the first youth advocates in the nation to call attention to the needs of children and youth within Indian Country, USA.
Pine Ridge is located on the Oglala Sioux reservation within and adjacent to the imposing Black Hills of South Dakota. Their Boys and Girls Club was the first such facility established in Indian Country. Today there are 200 Native American Clubs serving nearly 90,000 Native youth in 24 states, representing approximately 90 different American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities. Still not enough to serve the tremendous needs and poverty of Native American children and youth, but certainly a step forward. I flew from South Dakota to Washington, DC where I serve on the Boards of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the U.S. Coastal America Learning Centers. When a fellow Aquarium CEO heard where I had been, he said, “what were you doing in South Dakota, there is no ocean there.”
The fact is, there is a little ocean in many parts of Indian Country, and soon there will be in Pine Ridge as well. Through our JASON Project, Immersion Learning and Nautilus Live programs we have brought the ocean to thousands of kids in the Boys and Girls Club network in Indian Country. The Club in Pine Ridge will soon join several other Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the nation in having an “Exploration Command Center” which will link them to the work of the E/V Nautilus and to our amazing group of scientists and engineers who will mentor the students through live interactive programming.
Here are two pictures from the ceremony at Pine Ridge:
The photo to the right is President's Councilor Robbie Callaway with Leatrice “Chick” Big Crow. Pine Ridge's Boys and Girls Club is named for her daughter, SuAnne Big Crow, who was killed in an automobile accident while driving to a high school basketball event over 20 years ago.
Mr. Callaway gave a very emotional speech about his experiences working with the Club, and how he was ultimately welcomed as a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe.
At Mystic Aquarium we have an outstanding team of experts in water quality. Here is a short video featuring Dawn Holman and Elizabeth Lillie who explain the work of our Water Quality Lab.
Congratulations go to Todd Devlin-Perry who recently earned his Level 1 Life Support System Operator Certification. This took considerable hard work on his part and will greatly benefit the organization. Thank you, Todd.
On June 12th, under the leadership of Trustee John Holstein, we hosted our first Sea Research Foundation Golf Classic at Lake of Isles in Mashantucket. Special thanks to our Executive Director of Development Megan Brown and Director of Special Events Donna Chenette for their working in organizing this event as well as the many members of our staff who assisted. It was a great event and grossed over $50,000 for our comprehensive campaign.
Several members of our staff had the opportunity to play in the tournament with Auctioneer Mike Riccio. Megan Priede, Amanda Wacasey and Gus Stout represented us well. It was Gus’ first time golfing and he did great. Pictured below is our tournament mascot riding with an overdressed non-golfer.
On a very personal note, I would like to thank the many people who have kindly offered prayers and words of encouragement over the past six months. In January, I arrived in Singapore with Trustee Tom Mosey and learned within hours of being there that my wife had been hospitalized. I returned home immediately (it’s a 20 hour trip) and went to Rhode Island Hospital.
Within a few days we learned that Patti had cancer. This is, as many of you know, a devastating conversation to be party to. The past six months have involved radiation and chemotherapy but I am so relieved to tell you that she has been declared cancer free. Again, I thank you for your support and encouragement. Patti looks forward to again being a presence at our events beginning in the Fall.
See you all very soon!
I want to remind you that we have a Town Meeting scheduled for June 26th at 8am on the Main Gallery floor. These meetings are open to the Board and Donors, but are primarily intended for staff and volunteers to come together and discuss common issues.
In the meantime, I want to share with you some of the highlights of the Board of Trustees meeting which took place during the past weekend.
Dr. George M. Milne, Jr., Chairman of the Board, welcomed several new Trustees. They are:
· Jamie O’Connell, Managing Director, The Blackstone Group, New York, New York. Mr. O’Connell headed the debt restructure effort for Sea Research Foundation on a pro bono basis between 2008 and 2010. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in corporate financial restructuring and reorganization. He will serve on the Finance Committee of the Board.
· Dr. Daniel Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators, in Alexandria, Virginia. The Association is the primary membership organization for school superintendents and principals in the United States. Dr. Domenech is one of the most prominent school leaders in the nation, having served as Superintendent of the Miami-Dade and Fairfax, Virginia school districts as well as many other prominent assignments. Dr. Domenech will serve on the Education Committee of the Board.
· Tim Kane, President and CEO, Goodway Technologies in Stamford, Connecticut. Goodway Technologies is a global manufacturer of industrial maintenance technologies and equipment. Mr. Kane is a native of Greenwich, Connecticut and is active in numerous marine science and youth oriented philanthropies. Mr. Kane will serve on the Development and Education Committees of the Board.
· Dr. Alfredo Gutierrez of Miami, Florida heads Northbay Equity Partners, a private equity firm focused on Latin America. Dr. Gutierrez was President of JP Morgan Brazil and a senior officer of the World Bank. He has a keen interest in The JASON Project, Immersion Learning and our work with the Miami Dade County Public Schools. Dr. Gutierrez will serve on the Finance and Education Committees of the Board.
We also welcomed a new member of the President’s Council. Dr. Robert Spillane lives in Pawcatuck, is a native of Connecticut, and is a retired school superintendent who led the New Rochelle, Boston and Fairfax County Virginia public school districts. He serves as an education ambassador for the U. S. Department of State and continues to advise school districts throughout the nation on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) issues.
The Board dinner and meeting took place at the Mystic Yachting Center which since January has been operated by our catering company, Ocean Blue Catering. It was an opportunity for the Trustees to see the facility which has significant bookings in place through the end of first quarter 2013 and is already profitable for Sea Research Foundation.
There was much to celebrate during the meeting. Attendance year-to-date is up 25% from the same time last year, and the first quarter of 2012 was the fifth consecutive quarter of attendance and related revenue growth for the organization. The Titanic exhibit has been a smashing success. We are making progress on the final phase of the debt restructure, to refinance current debt with another bank and secure an additional write down of $5 million from our current lender – a clause that was intended to motivate Sea Research Foundation to meet or exceed certain benchmarks on financial performance which we have done.
During the meeting independent auditor JH Kohn reported a clean audit, and complimented the Board on the progress that the organization made during 2011 and the first quarter of 2012. The audit firm also challenged Sea Research Foundation to continue to stabilize revenue lines and correlate expenses accordingly.
The Board meeting featured reports from the various Committees which currently include:
· Finance, Charles Gill, Chair
· Audit, Steve Perrelli, Chair
· Nominating and Governance, Susette Tibus, Chair
· Animal Care and Research, Dr. Gerard Burrow, Chair; Dr. Deborah Kochevar, Vice Chair
· Education (The JASON Project), Jerry Lundquist, Chair
· Institute for Exploration, Peter Drakos, Chair
· Mystic Entertainment Company (Ocean Blue Catering), Dan Verdier, Chair
· Capital Projects and Master Planning, Dan Verdier, Chair
· Maritime Drive Properties, John Holstein, Chair
· Marketing, Steve Perrelli, Chair
· Development, Tom Leiden, Chair
During these reports some key issues were discussed at length. They included:
· Focusing our development, marketing, public relations and sales efforts to grow our overall presence in Fairfield County and Rhode Island;
· Continuing to diversify the Board of Trustees;
· Long-term planning for our marine mammal collection;
· Long-term planning for our focus on ocean exploration and work with the E/V Nautilus
· Human resource needs including compensation of staff and follow-up to the 2010 employee survey of staff. Considerable attention was given to staff professional development.
We heard a presentation from The Ocean Project on research that they are conducting on the impact of aquariums, zoos and museums on public consciousness with regard to ocean issues. A copy of that report can be found here.
Having raised nearly the entire $12 million comprehensive campaign goal set in November 2010, the Board of Trustees voted to increase the quiet phase of the campaign to $18 million. We will determine later in the year when and how we make the campaign public. The incredible support of our staff and management team in the campaign was noted as one of the success points, along with 100% participation from the Board.
Most exciting to the Board was to hear a presentation from Director of Exhibits Jonathan Scoones and Curator of Fish and Invertebrates Don Harrington on exhibit plans for the next several years. This plan, put together by them jointly, represents the work of the Cross-Functional Team on Exhibits established about two years ago. Members of the Committee include: Jon Scoones, Don Harrington, Peter Glankoff, Megan Brown, Tracy Romano, Bruce Cousineau, Jim Meyers, Kelly Milton, Mike Osborn, Will Parks, Keith Sorensen, Mary Beth Sweeney, Allison Tuttle and Andy Wood.
A copy of the plan can be seen here. It is important to note that this is an initial plan that will be vetted and refined many times. Your input and suggestions are most welcome by response to this Blog or via email to me or others on the Cross-Functional Team.
I would like to point out that we currently have three Cross-Functional Teams. They are the Exhibits Team, the Human Resources Team, and the Institute for Exploration Team. The cross-functional approach is intended to bring focus to key operating areas that by nature require multi-departmental input and that have broad impact on all areas of day-to -day operations.
Every Board meeting features extensive interaction, debate and refinement of operations. Sea Research Foundation has much to celebrate. However, the Board emphasized that we need to continue to strengthen our financial position, invest in our staff and raise funds so that we can continue to improve our exhibits and grow our attendance. As I hope you know by now, the organization has established operational goals for 2012, which can be found here.
A couple of updates are in order.
First, thank you to everyone who made April such a great success. With 70,000 visitors over a three week period everyone was challenged. All of our departments and personnel came together to help our guests have the best possible experience and to keep exhibits, programs and hospitality services going smoothly.
Second, I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of those who collaborated on the new United Technologies Ocean Exploration Center. A special thank you to several people who made the project possible: Trustee Charles Gill who secured funding for it; Dr. Robert Ballard whose vision makes it possible; and including Vice President Keith Sorensen who oversaw all phases of the project. Thank you also to Vice President Laurie Bradt, Paul McKee, Jim Meyers, Jeff Glennon, Bruce Cousineau, Tim Robbins, Vice President Will Parks, Executive Vice President Peter Glankoff, and the entire Marketing and Public Relations Team. No doubt I am leaving someone off, and for that I apologize in advance. That is the danger in singling people out – it took many more people to make this project happen and to all I am very grateful.
Congratulations to Gayle Sirpenski who has been nominated for a position on the Ethics Board of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Thank you to Dr. Robert Ballard and Katie Cubina who gave testimony recently at the Rhode Island State House in support of funding for The JASON Project.
Also, congratulations to Dr. Allison Tuttle who spoke at a recent conference in New Orleans marking the 2nd Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The conference was sponsored by our partner, the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) under the leadership of Trustees Clay Maitland and Carleen Lyden-Kluss. It was attended by leaders who responded to the incident as well as academics and policymakers including Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
Recently I gave a policy address at Fairfield University as part of their public engagement lecture series. An Op-Ed appeared in the Connecticut Post summarizing the talk which you can find here.
The talk itself appeared in the journal, Marine Link and can be found here.
While there is much exciting work to be done, there is time for fun as well. After the Board meeting my family and I went to see the Red Sox at Fenway Park. What a game! After 17 innings the Red Sox lost to the Orioles. Alas, but the season is young and hope springs eternal.
See you soon!
On April 11 we dedicate the new Ocean Exploration Center and open an exciting new exhibit, Titanic: 12,450 Feet Below. This $2 million renovation and construction project is being managed by Vice President for Facilities and Capital Projects, Keith Sorensen who is working with Tim Delaney Productions, EWI Worldwide and Carlin Construction on the project. Here are some images of the project from this week:
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On Tuesday, Executive Vice President Peter Glankoff gave a major speech to a legendary Connecticut group known as the "Old Guard". His speech captures the history of our organization and its future quite well and I want to share it with you:
OLD GUARD PRESENTATION: March 27, 2012
Mystic Aquarium to Sea Research: Not Just Another Pretty Fish
Good Morning, Old Guard! It is great to be here, and I am delighted to be invited to this gathering. The story I want to share with you today is about how a very nice local aquarium that you probably know pretty well changed into something quite different from what you might have thought it was.
It's a story about an aquarium, but it could as easily be a story about a company, a culture or even a country.
But first, a little background on my subject today -- the aquarium in question -- Mystic Aquarium.
Let's travel back to the mid-60s, a time when little old Mystic, Connecticut appeared to be really onto something. A few years earlier, in the late 50s, a brand new I-95 Connecticut Turnpike brought access from all directions and distances to shoreline Connecticut. A "living history" maritime museum called Mystic Seaport was inviting visitors to climb aboard old wooden ships which at the time was about as exciting an experience as anyone could imagine. Mystic Seaport began drawing significant numbers of people to Mystic from New York and beyond. In 1967, only days after a 12-page spread in National Geographic Magazine on Mystic Seaport, complete with a detailed map of the museum grounds landed in peoples’ mailboxes, crowds lined the sidewalk waiting to get in. People were observed waiting patiently to be admitted, their National Geographic magazines and maps firmly in hand.
Much has changed since those days of new Interstates, paper magazines and being able to touch history by stepping onto a real whale ship. Think population explosion, Disney, digital media and virtual reality. Our world has really changed.
In 1973, a small group of successful, Cleveland-based scientists and entrepreneurs founded Mystic Aquarium – a single building with fish tanks situated right at the I-95 Exit 90 interchange. The founders had invented a product called Instant Ocean which you could just add to tap water and bingo you had the perfect balance of sodium chloride and other minerals and compounds to create sea water. Suddenly, you no longer had to be located near the ocean to pipe in salt water to fill your tanks: You could build your aquarium anywhere. Mystic Aquarium demonstrated this new reality perfectly.
With the construction of the Olde Mistick Village shopping complex and the arrival of more hotels and restaurants, Mystic continued to grow. Federal recognition of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations and the arrival of the Indian casinos coincided with the diminishment of military-industrial manufacturing in the 80s and early 90s. Roughly 20,000 lost manufacturing jobs in Eastern CT were replaced by an equal number of casino jobs, shifting the economy even more toward tourism, hospitality and gaming.
And now for our story. Mystic Aquarium was founded in 1973 as a for-profit attraction. A few years later, it applied for and gained non-profit 501c3 status under the corporate name Sea Research Foundation. This designation provided tax benefits, but more importantly allowed the organization to sell memberships and apply for grants and other forms of support as a mission-driven enterprise. That mission: To inspire people to care about and protect our ocean planet through research and education was extended in 1996 to include "exploration" alongside research and education through a major $52 million expansion and the arrival of Dr. Robert Ballard and establishment of the Institute for Exploration a year later.
The expansion, and the addition of Dr. Ballard's Institute for Exploration to the Aquarium, changed the dynamics of the organization. The sea may connect all things as Yale's Gaddis Smith wrote, but Dr. Ballard's relocation to Mystic Aquarium was not as immediate a fit as one might have expected. Ballard is not a fish guy; per se, even though he was once a dolphin trainer early in his career. Anyhow, dolphins are mammals, not fish. And those who study animal life in sunlit seas are not necessarily familiar or comfortable with the perpetual darkness of deep sea exploration. At the same time, people who visit aquariums are not necessarily prepared for a deep dive into plate tectonics, volcanic chemosynthesis or even ancient shipwrecks. They go to aquariums to see fish and have fun. Most are not expecting to be diverted by anything too serious, or too deep.
By 2006, under emerging new leadership, the aquarium completed an in-depth strategic plan which tapped into data, opinions and analysis collected from every level of the organization from Trustees and donors, to staff, volunteers, members, and the public. The single most compelling message to emerge was, quite simply, that people don't really know what we do. We are viewed as an attraction with little public understanding of our extensive research and education programs, or even why the individual considered by many to be the world's greatest living explorer, Robert Ballard, is based here.
In short, Mystic Aquarium had become a victim of its own success. Yes, it was Connecticut's largest non-casino attraction, with 700,000 annual visitors, but it was constrained by the perception of being a small local attraction based in semi-rural Mystic with little reach beyond Eastern Connecticut.
It was pretty clear that the pieces of our puzzle didn't quite fit together. We needed to find a way to gather under one roof our deep sea exploration division, our local and national education programs, our extensive and respected marine animal research and husbandry operation and a world-class aquarium. We couldn't really do fundraising as Mystic Aquarium in other potential donor markets since most already had their own aquariums and zoos.
Sea Research Foundation was our official corporate name, but until 2006, it only appeared on legal documents and contracts. In most instances, we were Sea Research foundation doing business as Mystic Aquarium. Kind of awkward. So why not bring Sea Research Foundation to the fore? After all, sea research was what we were always all about, going all the way back to the days of Instant Ocean and its brilliant inventor-scientist, the late Bill Kelley, who happened to be Mystic Aquarium's first president.
So we did just that. Sea Research Foundation became the parent, and the divisions were neatly organized under it. We redesigned everything accordingly, and started applying the new graphics to all communication, from business cards and stationary to advertising, online, vehicles and signage. It has taken a while to roll it all out: We didn't have the resources to do it all at once as Exxon once did. But over time the changes are becoming evident; visually, conceptually and operationally.
Sea Research Foundation Today
Armed with a new mission, a new leadership team, branding program, marketing strategy and realistic revenue and attendance goals, we began to roll out our program. We wanted to hit'em high, and hit'em low. That is, we wanted to begin building a national and international profile for Sea Research Foundation, while reversing the declining attendance trends for Mystic as a destination, and Mystic Aquarium as its centerpiece attraction, which despite some erosion in annual attendance since the major expansion, remains Connecticut's largest non-casino attraction.
We have initiated a variety of programs to re-boot the Mystic brand. We use a data-driven marketing strategy for Mystic Aquarium to understand our audiences better and target appropriate demographic and geographic markets efficiently. We are working closely with the new Governor and his administration to relaunch the Connecticut tourism and economic development program.
Along the way, Sea Research reached some milestones:
- Long-term debt settlement with major lending institution
- Strategic alliance with the National Geographic Society
- Acquisition of The JASON Project
- Cultural exchange with Mashantucket students and Inupiat villagers of Point Lay
- Travel and research partnership with Arctic Watch
- Partnership with RW Sentosa,Singapore
- Partnership with SANCCOB, Cape Town, SA
- Expansion of Board to include leaders in Research, Education, Science and Philanthropy
- Near completion of comprehensive campaign
- Opening of new Ocean Exploration Center on April 12, featuring Titanic: 12,450 ft BELOW, presented by United Technologies
In addition to being Connecticut's largest attraction, Aquarium-based education programs combined with our JASON and Immersion Learning systems reach about 2 million elementary, middle and high school students each year, making Sea Research New England's largest informal learning institution. We serve as a critical engine for bringing young people to studies and careers in STEM based industries. Our local economic impact is estimated at $80 million each year through jobs, hotel, restaurant and retail receipts, and ancillary spending. But this is not enough. Already topping the admission prices of most aquariums in the nation, we need your support. Yes, this is the pitch! Revenue from our aquarium operations covers about 60% of our annual operating budget. The rest comes from grants, membership and donations.
Here are a few suggestions as to how you -- gentlemen of the Old Guard -- can help.
- Become a lifetime member
- Become a volunteer
- Refer a friend
- Help me identify a potential corporate sponsor
- Become a donor: Endow a research chair; name a building; leave a legacy!
Sea Research Foundation and Mystic Aquarium exist to inspire people, young and old, to protect our ocean planet. We exist to serve you and future generations. I invite you to join us in this important work. Thank you.
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Best wishes and see you all soon!