My role as a Senior Trainer with our African penguins is just a sliver of the work being done by the Mystic Aquarium. As we study and research African penguins our ability to share firsthand knowledge is vastly increased. Our role as scientists is to provide valid and relevant information concerning the environment and the impact humans are having upon it. For example, by recording dietary intake of African penguins in our care we can determine the amount of resources necessary to support their annual molt or raise offspring and compare this data with the resources currently available in Southern Africa. Our current research focused on fecal glucocorticoid levels in penguins is allowing us to develop and implement non-invasive ways to monitor the health of African penguin colonies in South Africa and Namibia. This work may seem centered on African penguins, but when we consider them as a sentinel species, it becomes evident that factors affecting them indicate changes in the environment. For example, if the population decline for African penguins can be attributed in part to the overfishing of sardines and anchovies in South Africa, couldn’t that be affecting other species that rely on those fish species as well? Or even humans? The work Mystic Aquarium is doing is not only highlighting the threats to animal species, but we are also bringing to the forefront a warning that if we continue down our current path we might not realize the damage we have done until it is too late.
As an employee at Mystic Aquarium I have the benefit of seeing the effort that goes in to designing and planning our exhibits and collections. Our presentations, programs, graphics, and overall messaging highlight the adaptations of the animals on our planet and the role each species plays as a whole. We have exhibits focusing on the relationship between anemones and clownfish, the multitude of species of coral, the role of sharks in the ecosystem, and the variety of animals that are suited for life in various types of water. The education we pass on to our guests allows us to empower current and future generations to make choices in their daily lives as well as decisions that influence policies which will hopefully result in a greater respect for the overall biodiversity of our planet and the value that it holds for our own survival.
As I continue to grow in my career I treasure the opportunities I have had caring for a population of African penguins in human care, participating in research and conservation work with African penguins in South Africa, and educating the public about our oceans. I have also had the pleasure of seeing my colleagues conduct similar work with numerous other species and sharing their experiences with the public as well. This sharing of scientific knowledge and firsthand experience is often when visitors realize for the first time just how special these animals are, and how close some of them are to disappearing.
I am extremely pleased to see World Wildlife Day including a focus on life below the water because we live on a planet that is three fourths covered by water. The health of our waters can tell us the health of our planet and the overall theme of our future.