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Press Release

Mystic Aquarium and Community Leaders Provide Input to White House Ocean Justice Strategy

July 20, 2023

MYSTIC, Conn. (July 20, 2023) – Mystic Aquarium gains recognition as a leader in ocean conservation and community engagement as the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) acknowledges the Aquarium’s work around marine protected areas and turns to it for input on the new Ocean Justice Strategy. On June 15, 2023, Mystic Aquarium hosted CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory for a campus tour and roundtable discussion, where she was joined by Representative Joe Courtney (D – Conn.), key staff, researchers, and community members.

The Aquarium’s collaboration with the White House Council on Environmental Quality began with the 2016 designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument – the first of its kind in the U.S. Atlantic. More recently, the Aquarium found natural synergy with the nation’s America the Beautiful initiative to conserve at least 30% of all lands and waters by 2030, while increasing equitable access to the benefits of nature and supporting locally led, voluntary conservation efforts.

The roundtable, facilitated by Ayana Melvan, senior director of Strategic Partnerships, comes as Mystic Aquarium’s initiative, Amplifying Diverse Perspectives in Conservation (ADPC), is gaining recognition as a national model for including diverse voices in conservation efforts. The ADPC effort kicked off in January 2023 with the objective of creating a framework of equitable and inclusive practices that authentically engage communities of color in ocean conservation. Representatives from Mystic Aquarium were joined by a group of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community leaders and members. The group includes people who work with youth in underserved communities, members of local Tribes, people in the fishing industry, academicians, and more.

“The idea for creating this framework was sparked because Mystic Aquarium does a lot of conservation work around the world and makes recommendations to different governing entities, and it is important to get real voices and diverse perspectives around the table to discuss conservation issues, especially those related to Marine Protected Areas,” said Melvan. “During the process of designating the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts as a Marine Protected Area, the policy makers indicated they wanted input from people of color – I noticed that the BIPOC leaders and community members I know weren’t called on for their perspectives. The purpose of setting up the listening sessions and convening South Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island BIPOC leaders and community members was to come up with a way to get the voices of diverse people to policy makers.”

At the roundtable discussion, participants were challenged to engage in thought-provoking conversations about the importance of ocean justice, the existing barriers hindering its achievement, and the actions required to dismantle these obstacles. Melvan summarized the sentiment expressed in the room, stating, “Safety, survival, access to opportunity, and representation—these are the critical issues that demand our attention,” said Melvan. “To create a meaningful Ocean Justice Strategy that resonates with our community, we must address these challenges head-on.”

“As a trusted, science-backed institution and community anchor, we are thrilled to bring people together around important topics related to ocean conservation. The roundtable discussion with Chair Mallory is just one step in shaping a more equitable future where healthy ocean ecosystems can sustain thriving communities,” said Katie Cubina, senior vice president of Mission Programs.

“Oceans and waterways are central to eastern Connecticut’s way of life. Mystic Aquarium’s leadership in advancing an Ocean Justice Strategy grounded by diverse perspectives will help ensure we protect and conserve marine life while also sustaining access to the many benefits the ocean provides our region,” said Representative Courtney. “The roundtable was a tangible example of community and federal stakeholders coming together to care of our oceans. I thank the Council of Environmental Quality for taking the opportunity to gather feedback from our region. I will continue to work with the Biden Administration and CEQ Chair Mallory to deliver the federal support Mystic Aquarium needs to carry out their important mission.”

Chair Mallory expressed her gratitude for being invited to join the discussion and her hope for change. “I’m thrilled to be here. We have a tremendous opportunity. We’re getting attention on these issues and having more open conversations in more rooms, in more places than it’s ever happened before. We have to take advantage of the moment. This is our responsibility, and our opportunity.”

About Mystic Aquarium

Mystic Aquarium, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, is counted among the nation’s leading aquariums, offering exemplary care to a variety of species while also serving as the northeast’s premier marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center. Robust conservation and education programming along with unparalleled visitor experiences serve to strengthen personal connections to the animals and their environments. The mission of Mystic Aquarium is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education, and research, and introduces approximately 800,000 guests annually to thousands of animals through structured interpretations, specially curated exhibits, and hands-on interactions. As a leading research organization, Mystic Aquarium employs a full staff of scientists engaged in projects focused on the conservation and sustainability of our ocean planet.

Cover photo: 

White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory (second from left) and Representative Joe Courtney (second from right) pose with Rodney Butler, Chair of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Ayana Melvan, Mystic Aquarium Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, and Susette Tibus, Mystic Aquarium President and CEO at the conclusion of the Ocean Justice Strategy roundtable discussion hosted by Mystic Aquarium on June 15, 2023. (Mystic Aquarium Photo/Erica Casper)