The Seattle Aquarium is proud to announce that our Beach Naturalist program is the very first winner of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Innovation in Volunteer Engagement Award. The award was developed to recognize achievement in volunteer program development; programs were judged by their ability to engage volunteers in the overall mission and operation of the organization. Ten different AZA member organizations submitted applications for the award in the “operating budget of over $5 million” category.
Who were we competing with? Notable institutions including the Brevard Zoo, CZS Brookfield Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Friends of the National Zoo, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Maryland Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, San Diego Zoo Global and Seattle’s own Woodland Park Zoo. Congratulations to our neighbors—the Woodland Park Zoo received awards in several other categories, including the AZA’s highest award for professional excellence, the R. Marlin Perkins Award, which was bestowed upon former director David Towne; a top award for Acting President & CEO Bruce Bohmke; and an award for significant achievement in volunteer engagement.
Says Volunteer Engagement Manager Katrina Bettis (who also serves on the AZA Volunteer Management Committee but was not on the judging panel for the award), “This is the first year in the history of AZA that there has been an award category specifically for volunteer engagement. AZA has a long history of formally recognizing animal care, education, conservation and visitor engagement programs, among others. When the Volunteer Management Committee was formed just a few years ago, we as a group felt that since many of our facilities rely on the effective engagement of volunteers to fulfill our missions, we wanted to make sure that those programs were being recognized at the AZA level.”
Described at the awards ceremony as “an incredibly innovative program that engages over 300 people in conservation work,” the Beach Naturalist program brings volunteer naturalists to a dozen Puget Sound shorelines on low-tide days each summer to engage with the public and provide information about the beach, its inhabitants—and how to care for both. Says Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson, “The exceptional Beach Naturalist program leverages the opportunities presented by an outing to the beach, providing our highly trained volunteer naturalists with a chance to educate and inspire new audiences about the wonders of the marine environment, and the critical importance of caring for it. It’s a prime example of the Seattle Aquarium’s vision and mission in action.”
While the 2015 Beach Naturalist season has come to a close, the partner Cedar River Salmon Journey program is just about to begin! Click here for details, and plan to join naturalists along the Cedar River in October to learn about salmon and their habitat. Plus, check our website next spring for details about the Beach Naturalist program—including how to become a volunteer, as well as program dates, times and locations.