Our mission is to inspire conservation of the marine environment through education, research, and sustainable practices.
The biggest challenge of the past year was staying on mission with severely reduced revenue and tightened budgets. But the beauty of the Virginia Aquarium team is that every member, from the CEO and chiefs to contracted employees and volunteers, embraces a passion for the mission. We were tasked with finding new and innovative ways not just to meet our financial needs, but to continue providing programs to families, outstanding care to our animals, and carrying out the important work of marine conservation and research. We started new educational programs, reinvented pre-existing programs, introduced new, fun, socially distanced, and safe events, and gave old favorites a new 2020-look. We even opened our new turtle hatchling exhibit during all of this! Considering everything, we did pretty good. But, like many of you, we are happy to say goodbye to the old year and ready to embrace a new one. 2021 is already looking good and we are looking forward to lots of excitement, new beginnings, and most importantly, continuing our mission.
Likely, one of our most anticipated happenings of 2021 is the opening of our brand new, experience-filled South Building.
Many of you will remember the old Marsh Pavilion that previously housed some of our exhibits. Our new South Building will be even more incredible with new aquariums, galleries, exhibits, and hands-on learning opportunities. Let’s not forget our adorable otters who are awaiting their re-entry as well! Stay tuned for announcements on this opening in the coming months.
Members of the Education and Programs staff worked on overdrive this past year as they rose up to help parents and educators facing school closures. Perhaps it took a pandemic to recognize the need, but the innovative ways that the team has found to continue inspiring marine conservation through education have been exciting. Although the ever-popular Toddler Programs couldn’t be held onsite, they successfully moved one weekly event online. Our scientists, who often remain behind the scenes, found avenues for sharing knowledge through virtual science talks. And of course, we embraced the use of social media with live events that allowed guests to “visit” their animal favorites. While we are not sure exactly how 2021 will look and what opportunities will be able to return to the "old ways" of doing things, we are starting this year with an impressive tool kit to stay on mission.
Finally, yet foundational to all we do here, is the work of conservation research, stranding response, and continued sustainability. This year we are excited to witness the opening of our brand-new Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment to raise our work to the next level.
Our Green Team on site continues to find innovative ways, both big and small, for us to strive towards a more sustainable environment and our nationally recognized Stranding Response program continues to respond to stranded sea turtles and marine mammals. With the continued support of very generous donors to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Foundation, many of whom dug even deeper during the past year, the important marine conservation efforts will not only continue in 2021, they will soar.
So, join us in saying goodbye to 2020 and dive into 2021. While COVID-19 grounded planes, closed businesses, and canceled events, not even a pandemic can stop the need for us to continue caring for this planet and protecting it for future generations. The Aquarium has been resilient. Not only were we not dissuaded, but we have come through stronger, eager, and ready to push forward into a new beginning.