By: Christopher Davis | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: December 2014
Aqua Agent volunteer Emma Suppes poses with a horseshoe crab.
When Ann Money first moved to the area 14 years ago to help open the Oklahoma Aquarium, there were only a handful of “land-locked” aquariums. Since its official opening in 2003, however, aquariums with no access to the ocean have grown in popularity – no doubt, in part, to the success of the facility in Jenks.
Money, the curator of education programs and research, is quick to acknowledge the secret to the Oklahoma Aquarium’s continued success: it is the love, commitment and hard work of all the volunteers who help in the galleries and behind the scenes. “The aquarium relies on volunteerism to function,” she explains. “Some of our volunteers have been with us for 13 years.”
At any given time, there are about 150 regular volunteers who help keep things flowing at the facility. And, while just over 300 volunteers are active in the program, Money says that, ideally, the aquarium would like that number to top 400.
Aquarium volunteers enjoy special benefits. Aside from the obvious special access to exhibits and unique learning experience, volunteers also receive discounts at the café and gift shop, as well as behind-the-scenes tours and half price membership for their family.
There are five types of volunteers at the Oklahoma Aquarium. As new volunteers gain more experience, opportunities for increased involvement and responsibility are offered. As volunteers learn more about how things work at the aquarium, special opportunities to work even more closely with the animals are offered. A select few are chosen to work behind the scenes, preparing food for the various creatures, keeping their habitats clean and assisting the professionals on staff.
Aqua Agents are adult
volunteers who hold down the fort and generally interact with the public the most. They work the information booth, lead
teach-talks and provide support for the galleries. Anyone who has been to the aquarium recalls encountering numerous smiling faces, ready to answer a question or share interesting factoids about the creatures in the tank; these are the Aqua Agents.
The Aqua Teens, aged 13 to 17, are comprised of youth who are interested in and might be considering a career in science. These volunteers work up close with exhibits, supporting staff or other volunteers. A rare opportunity for an Oklahoma teen, these volunteers learn a lot about marine life.
Tulsa Achieves volunteers are students from the Tulsa Community College program, for whom community engagement is part of their admission requirements. Since its creation in 2007, the Tulsa Achieves Program has amassed a standing army of volunteers for the community’s nonprofit organizations. “Many of these students come back each year to volunteer with us, even after they graduate.”
Perhaps the most glamorous of opportunities is the Dive Program. Volunteers who have displayed the highest level of commitment and responsibility – and obtained the proper certifications – are afforded the opportunity to dive in the coral reef exhibit. “There are always two divers at a time,” notes Money, explaining that all safety precautions are taken. These divers feed and clean the large coral reef tank, sometimes even serving as entertainment for the viewers.
If volunteering for the Oklahoma Aquarium sounds interesting and fun to you, simply go to their website at www.okaquarium.org and click “Get Involved” to fill out an application.
For more information, contact
Christopher Davis is an educator and musician, as well as a writer. A California native, he resides in Tulsa with his wife, two sons and a modest menagerie of pets. When he isn't inspiring young minds, you will most likely find him spending time with his family or playing drums and percussion with Project Huckleberry or the Movetet. In addition to Value News, Davis also writes for Currentland. You can view his work at https://seedavis.wordpress.com.