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Reflecting on Success: Unveiling the Highlights of Our Mission Programs in 2023

January 31, 2024

It has been a productive year for Mystic Aquarium's Mission Programs teams who are committed to creating a more inclusive and sustainable future where wildlife, ecosystems, and people thrive together. Let's celebrate some of our successes in 2023!

Conservation Research: Innovative Research in Animal and Ecosystem Health

Our conservation research aims to inform management and policy decisions that combat the climate and biodiversity crises. The Research team is making significant progress in advancing aquatic conservation through research conducted in both natural habitats and controlled environments. Here are some of our accomplishments in 2023:

- We demonstrated that sea turtle and seal genes can be detected in a water sample. This is an essential development as it will help us monitor and detect the presence of marine mammals and sea turtles in different locations of our ocean and in relation to different manmade stressors.

- We deployed baited remote underwater video (BRUV) cameras at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to begin a study aimed at assessing variation in the diversity and abundance of apex predators in this marine protected area.

- We developed a test to measure the stress hormone corticosterone in walrus fecal samples. This non-invasive technique will aid in monitoring stress in wild walrus populations.

- In collaboration with Yale, we published a paper showing that beluga and bottlenose dolphin cells are susceptible to the three variants of SARS-CoV-2.

- We published a paper on the microbes found in beluga whale blowholes, revealing differences among the three whales and habitat water.

- We contributed to a book entitled "The Physiology of Dolphins," which was published in 2023.

- We finalized an African penguin "poop profile" that identifies the sex of a penguin, reproductive, metabolic, and stress status.

- We edited and contributed to a special issue of the scientific journal Frontiers in Marine Science focused on conservation research of Aquaria.

- We conducted preliminary research at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, assessing the link between higher trophic level predators and the success of coral transplants used to restore the Florida Coral Reef.

- We demonstrated significant regional differences in the composition of the deep-sea fish fauna in the central and western tropical Pacific, as well as differences across depths. These patterns suggest that the four Marine National Monuments in the region (Papahānaumokuākea, Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments, encompassing an area of 3,063,223 km2) are not replicates of diversity, but complementary components of the regional fauna.

Strategic Partnerships: Advancing Conservation through Diverse Perspectives

At Mystic Aquarium, we spearhead initiatives that promote diversity in the scientific, policy, and management communities. In 2023, we provided workforce development and educational opportunities to Indigenous people and hosted national leaders. We were thrilled to host Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, for a campus tour and roundtable discussion. Representative Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), key staff, researchers, and community leaders also joined the discussion. The roundtable was an opportunity for Mystic Aquarium and diverse community leaders to provide input on the White House's recently released Ocean Justice Strategy report.

Education: Connecting Youth to Long Island Sound

Our Where the City Meets the Sea grant-funded programming inspires young people from under-resourced communities to nurture an interest in science and become environmentally responsible citizens. In 2023, we engaged approximately 3,800 students from Title 1 schools across Connecticut in watershed programming that motivates them to learn and do more to protect our invaluable aquatic resources. This three-part program brought Long Island Sound into their classrooms, and with transportation provided, they were able to explore Mystic Aquarium and the shore of our state coastal parks for field investigations while enjoying the great outdoors.

Environmental Stewardship: Communities Committed to Conservation Action

We work alongside communities to protect local ecosystems through environmental stewardship activities, restore habitats, and collect environmental and water quality data that support local management plans. In 2023, over 60,000 Aquarium visitors and community members participated in conservation education and action. The collective impact of these environmental stewards was the removal of 1,200 pounds of trash from 10 miles of coastline, restoration of seven acres of marsh and grassland habitat, creation of three pollinator gardens, and community science studies on the health of algae, horseshoe crab, butterfly, and amphibian species.