More than 560 holiday parks where wild ideas flourish and take root are celebrated in the latest round of the David Bellamy Conservation Awards.
Located on the Eastern banks of Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour and facing the city’s historic Barbican quarter is the National Marine Aquarium (NMA) – the largest aquarium and supporters of the Ocean Conservation Trust in the UK.
Home to over 5,000 Ocean animals, it attracts hoards of visitors each year from across the South West and beyond, making it one of the region’s most significant and best-loved attractions. And, boasting a range of breath-taking exhibits that take visitors on a journey around the world, starting in the local waters of Plymouth Sound, across the Atlantic Ocean and all the way over the Pacific to the Great Barrier Reef, it’s hard not to fall in love with this captivating place.
The Atlantic Ocean exhibit is the deepest Aquarium tank in the whole of the UK and Europe, holding an impressive 2,500,000 litres of water – and is home to a range of spectacular Ocean animals including Friday the cheeky Green Turtle and a variety of Lemon and Sandbar Sharks. Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef exhibit features an astonishing range of colourful fish and marine life that anyone could find themselves sitting and watching for hours.
But the NMA is much more than just a visitor attraction alone. In fact, it is one of the major conservation initiatives of conservation charity, the Ocean Conservation Trust – and enables the team to connect with around 280,000 people, face to face, every year.
Telling the story of the Ocean and the challenges it faces, one of the attraction’s key selling point is its outstanding team of Ocean inspirers. Aquarium hosts use the marine environment as an engaging platform via which to capture the imagination of learners of all ages, providing a fun and exciting experience through the provision of their daily talks and shows.
CEO, Roger Maslin says: “The NMA is an invaluable tool when it comes to connecting people with the Ocean – whether that’s by showing them all the amazing animals and habitats than can be found beneath the waves, or sharing some fascinating facts with them via our engaging daily talks, feeds and shows.
“At the Ocean Conservation Trust, we’re all about connecting people with the Ocean, and that starts with helping them to find reasons to love it. That’s exactly what our knowledgeable, passionate and enthusiastic hosts do best. The Ocean is truly fascinating, and they are all always on hand to give our visitors an experience of the Ocean that is truly memorable.”
“As a conservation charity, we know that positive experiences of the Ocean can form the foundation for long-term support of conservation and the desire to change their behaviours for the better to reduce their environmental impact. And, whether it’s indoors at the Aquarium or out on the beach, a boat, or snorkelling in the sea, we’re always looking for new ways to create that emotional connection.”
At the NMA, the attraction takes its own green credentials very seriously, and in 2019, it won a coveted award for its commitment to working with the community to reduce single-use plastic pollution in the city of Plymouth – as well as significantly reducing its own consumption over the past few years.
It received a Silver award in Sustainability from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) for its role in the Plymouth Plan for Plastics, for which it is the flagship employer – and in partnership with local businesses and organisations including Environment Plymouth, Plymouth Waterfront Partnership and Plymouth City Council, it has played a central role in engaging the city and local community in a bid to combat the issue of excessive plastic waste.
The charity also runs a regular programme of activities and events across the South West, including beach cleans and activities with a clear environmental plastics message.
Using optimism to inspire the people of Plymouth and beyond to become a part of the solution to a range of Ocean conservation issues, plastics included, it hosts regular talks and shows on the topic both inside the NMA and at events across the South West, helping the public to understand how these materials make their way into the Ocean, the problems it is causing, and what they can do to help.
As part of its commitment to minimising plastic pollution in Plymouth, the charity has also significantly reduced the amount of single-use plastics used on site at the Aquarium - particularly in its café and retail areas - removing plastic straws and cups in its café and replacing them with paper and corn-starch alternatives and swapping out single-use plastic bottles for glass.
Its Ocean Gift Shop has also made significant strides towards going plastic free, now stocking a sustainable range of bamboo coffee cups, lunchboxes and beeswax sandwich wraps. The shop no longer makes plastic bags available to customers, giving out paper versions instead, and has dramatically reduced the number of plastic toys and gifts it sells. It also works extensively with suppliers to reduce the amount of plastic packaging it receives.
It’s not just the day visitors who benefit from the enjoyment of exploring the NMA’s underwater world. For 21 years, it has been coming up with innovative ways to get people excited about the Ocean, whether that’s through its curriculum-linked Schools learning programme, its Ocean Squad teen activity club, Ocean Todds sessions for young children, or boat trips out around the Plymouth Sound. All of them offer a unique chance to experience the Ocean in a fun and positive way, giving people a reason to love the Ocean, better understand it, and ultimately, want to look after it.
Its national Schools programme is of particular note and has allowed both the NMA and the Ocean Conservation Trust to forge a reputation for excellence in informal education - delivering fun and interactive learning experiences both in the aquarium and in schools.
Over 20,000 school children have participated in the Ocean Conservation Trust’s popular ‘Plastic Seas’ workshop – which educates them about the plastic problem - since it was launched, both through its learning programme based on site at the National Marine Aquarium and through its outreach programme in South Wales. More recently, the charity has teamed up with the Connect Academy Trust, in Plymouth, to develop the UK’s first Ocean Conservation Curriculum – which will be delivered in schools across the city from September this year. It is hoped that this will be the catalyst for other schools to follow suit – and that the Ocean will soon feature in all curriculums, UK wide.
Nicola Bridge, Head of Conservation Education and Communication, says: “One of the keys to Ocean conservation and long-term behaviour change is increasing Ocean literacy – in other words, helping people to better understand their connection with the Ocean, including how it impacts their daily lives and how the choices they make can in turn impact upon its health.
“Teaching children about the Ocean in schools is an opportunity to get the ball rolling early on, equipping the future generation with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about the Ocean. More than that, though, it helps them to get excited about it and love it – which we know is the most powerful tool of all.”
The Ocean Conservation Trust’s unique and optimistic approach to conservation aims to empower all people to do their bit to help the Ocean. By encouraging them to ‘Think Ocean’ in their daily lives, it hopes to inspire the types of positive changes in behaviour that will keep it healthy for the long-term – from walking or cycling where possible instead of driving, to reducing their consumption of single-use plastics, or simply turning the lights off when they leave the room.
To find out more about the National Marine Aquarium, visit: https://www.national-aquarium.co.uk/
To find out more about the Ocean Conservation Trust, visit: https://oceanconservationtrust.org/
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