MYSTIC, CT, October 25, 2022 – Mystic Aquarium was recently honored to host U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for a visit and tour of its world class conservation, education, and research institution. The nation’s first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary also engaged in an inspirational roundtable with aquarium experts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts tribal leaders, and environmental officials. The visit celebrates Mystic Aquarium’s partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its commitment to advancing the Biden/Harris Administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, including the goal of protecting at least 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030.
Mystic Aquarium Acting President & CEO Katie Cubina led a tour starting with the Ocean Solutions gallery, which introduces guests to ways in which the ocean can help solve the global biodiversity and climate crises through the establishment of marine protected areas and the responsible use of renewable ocean energy. The Ocean Refuge exhibit within the gallery takes guests on an immersive tour of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Monument superintendent Brittany Petersen, and Dr. Peter Auster, Mystic Aquarium’s senior research scientist who studied the region for decades, provided compelling narration to bring the monument to life for Secretary Haaland and invited guests. Both spoke passionately about how the exhibit engages aquarium guests of all ages.
Mystic Aquarium’s beloved collection of aquatic animals quickly captured Secretary Haaland’s heart during the rest of the tour, first at the beluga habitat, where she learned how the animals in Mystic Aquarium’s care are instrumental in advancing research to conserve the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population in Alaska. Secretary Haaland also toured Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic and learned about the Aquarium’s efforts to help save African penguins.
The visit was capped-off with Secretary Haaland’s participation in a compelling, and at times emotional, roundtable discussion. Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and Mystic Aquarium trustee kicked things off by welcoming the participants to Pequot country. The roundtable featured leaders from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Narragansett Tribe, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, Wiquapaug Eastern Pequot Tribe, Tomaquag Museum, and Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. They were joined by the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, and top Mystic Aquarium leaders such as Acting President and CEO Katie Cubina, who moderated the roundtable, Vice President of Biological Research & Chief Scientist Dr. Tracy Romano, Senior Research Scientist Dr. Peter Auster, Chief Zoological Officer Dr. Allison Tuttle, and Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships Ayana Melvan.
Secretary Haaland listened intently to the roundtable participants and was visibly moved as tribal members voiced their frustration about the many barriers that exist that make it challenging for them to access and utilize land and water that was stewarded by their people for millennia. The high costs of going to local beaches, and limited public access, was cited as a glaring example. Many members of the roundtable spoke about the need for, and potential of, partnerships that are built on mutual trust and respect. Secretary Haaland spoke passionately about the unbreakable connection between Indigenous People and the land, sharing that “we want to share in the future of our planet.”
“It was a tremendous honor to host Secretary Haaland and explore our shared values of restoring and conserving America the Beautiful, while increasing equitable access to nature,” said Cubina. “If you look at our work on marine protected areas, or our research program in partnership with Alaska natives in the high Arctic, or our STEM-based environmental education and stewardship work in partnership with BIPOC youth and communities around the country, they all exemplify our commitment to working collaboratively with individuals and organizations to help shape a more inclusive conservation movement that respects and values the rights and traditional ecological knowledge of Indigenous Peoples. These are values we share with our partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge system, and a critical piece of the puzzle.”
“This event really showcased the necessity of partnerships in achieving conservation. It also highlighted that access to our natural resources is still a challenge for many,” said Scott Kahan, Acting Deputy Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looks forward to continuing to build on this inspiring work to bring the wonders of the Monument and the National Wildlife Refuge System to the American people — regardless of where they live. We look forward to continuing to invest in our relationships with the community, it is through open dialogue and shared learning that we will reach our common goal of collaborative stewardship for our lands and waters.”