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Press Release

Mystic Aquarium Awarded $2 Million Federal Appropriation for Endangered Species Conservation

March 20, 2024

Mystic, CT [March 20, 2024] — On the heels of its 50th anniversary, and the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, Mystic Aquarium is thrilled to announce a $2-million federal appropriation award to expand its efforts to conserve threatened and endangered species. This funding will bolster the Aquarium's efforts to save federally protected species, such as African penguins, sea turtles, North Atlantic right whales, walruses, and endangered populations of beluga whales.

"We are extremely honored to receive this award, which is a testament to our leadership in and commitment to saving species and protecting the environment, said Katie Cubina, Senior Vice President for Mission Programs at Mystic Aquarium. "Scientists believe that we are in the midst of what is being called the 6th mass extinction event, with 1/4 of marine mammals, 1/2 of penguins and virtually all species of sea turtles threatened with extinction. We are grateful to our champions: Senators Murphy and Blumenthal and Representatives Courtney and DeLauro, who recognize the biodiversity crisis we face as a global community and the need to reverse that trend."

Mystic Aquarium's research program dedicates its collective efforts to conserving marine ecosystems and wildlife. Under the leadership of Chief Scientist and VP of Research, Dr. Tracy Romano, the team is at the forefront of creating innovative, non-invasive tools for assessing the health of aquatic animals. This work is urgent given the compounding environmental threats that marine life faces, the complexities of studying free-ranging animals, and the need for a non-intrusive approach when studying federally protected species in the wild.

Case in point, African penguin populations have plummeted to merely two percent of its historical numbers, primarily due to environmental threats such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution. The Mystic Aquarium research team recently achieved a significant breakthrough in developing a penguin ‘poop profile’. By collecting and analyzing the guano, or feces, of penguins, this innovative approach provides valuable information about the birds' diet, immune health, and reproductive status. This non-invasive data collection method allows wildlife biologists to study African penguins without the need for direct handling. 

"Having visited personally with African Penguins at the Mystic Aquarium, I'm a huge supporter of its conservation programs— and proud to fight for this $2 million investment. This endangered species needs immediate help to survive. Mystic Aquarium has the expertise and trust to advance this important cause – and that of other threatened species," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

For over two decades, Mystic Aquarium's animal care team has traveled to South Africa to work with The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to help care for orphaned penguin chicks and respond to oil spill disasters. Now, the Aquarium’s research and education teams will join the effort, conducting this vital health assessment work in South Africa and documenting the plight of African penguins and the important restoration work needed to save this species from extinction. 

Mystic Aquarium's Animal Rescue Program will also play a prominent role in the effort, specifically our work rescuing and rehabilitating threatened and endangered sea turtles and returning them to their ocean home. Funding will also enable Mystic Aquarium to update our campus messaging for its more than 800,000 visitors around endangered species conservation and expand our education, citizen science, and community engagement programs, which reach more than 100,000 youth and educators annually.  

The project will partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), the federal agency responsible for managing fish and wildlife resources in the public trust for present and future generations. The Aquarium has a robust partnership and shared mission with the USFW and was proud to host Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, for a campus tour and roundtable to work towards creating a more inclusive and sustainable future where wildlife, ecosystems, and people thrive. 

"The urgency around saving African penguins, sea turtles, and whales from extinction has never been greater," said Cubina. "Mystic Aquarium is excited to bring together its scientific, animal care, and education teams to work with partners across the globe to help save endangered species."

For more information about Mystic Aquarium and its conservation efforts, visit mysticaquarium.org.