Association of Zoos and Aquariums
It was a pleasure to welcome to our campus Mr. Tan Hee Teck, President and CEO of Genting Singapore and Resort World Sentosa along with Genting Singapore Senior Vice President for Communications, Krist Boo this past Monday. As you know we have developed a long-term partnership with their Marine Life Park which will open in late 2012 and include a massive new aquarium and dolphin facility.
It is always a privilege to showcase our facilities to others in the field, but never more so, when it is an international visitor. I am very grateful to Mr. Tan for his tremendous support of our mission and program. He told me during the visit that he and his company value “friendship first, then business.” As the pictures below show, it appears that he made some friends with our Beluga whales!
On Tuesday it was a great privilege to be with Trustees Clay Maitland and Carleen Lyden-Kluss in the Situation Room at United States Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC. We were in the room to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States Coast Guard and the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) which Clay and Carleen founded, and which is a key partner-in-conservation with Sea Research Foundation. This agreement took five years to reach, but affirms NAMEPA as a key educational and conversation outreach program for the U.S. Coast Guard.
During the ceremony Admiral Brian Salerno was extremely complimentary of Carleen and Clay. He noted the important work that NAMEPA is doing in educating the maritime industry and recreational boaters on environmental matters.
This is my second recent meeting at Coast Guard Headquarters. At lunch after the ceremony I sat with Rear Admiral Paul Zunkuft who was responsible for Coast Guard operations during the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.
At Coast Guard Headquarters near Commandant Robert Papp’s Office, there is a haunting painting. It shows two human spirits diving into the ocean. Below them are a stormy sea and a ship in distress. The painting depicts a tragedy that occurred in Alaskan waters a few years ago, when two U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers died at sea while trying to rescue the crew of a vessel.
I am struck each time I encounter the U.S. Coast Guard at the complexity and danger of their mission. They are deployed abroad in wartime and are currently protecting U.S. interests near Iran, at the heart of a major international threat. They are the primary agency responsible for interdiction of drug traffickers, certainly one of the most dangerous adversaries in the world. Every single day Coast Guard personnel rescue people from dangerous waters in good weather and bad. As military personnel, members of the U.S. Coast Guard are frequently deployed for months or years at a time without seeing family. They are ordered to move frequently, and their pay and benefits are far less than civilians. They give their lives to guard America, and their motto, “Semper Paratus” truly reflects their ethos. They often deploy in the dark of night or at times when most would rather stay inside, to places no one else would dare to go, to keep us safe, to rescue us, to protect Americans from harm. They are, “Always Ready”.
Southeastern Connecticut is truly fortunate to be home to the United States Coast Guard Academy and other major U.S. Coast Guard assets. Sea Research Foundation is honored to work with the Coast Guard in many ways, including through NAMEPA, and through the U.S. Coast Guard Foundation which is based in Stonington, Connecticut. The men and women of the United States Coast Guard deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. I hope that leaders in our region will unabashedly join me in affirming the work of this great organization and thank them for being part of our region.
On Wednesday we had a very successful press conference at the Explorers Club in New York City previewing the April 12 opening of “Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below” and the newly renamed Ocean Exploration Center at Mystic Aquarium sponsored by United Technologies. Long-time Disney Imagineer Tim Delaney described the exhibit to the press in attendance including The New York Times, Voice of America, People, Travel and Leisure, The New York Post, The Day and many other major media outlets. Here are the press release and some great images of the event, and the link to Joe Wojtas’s great story in The Day.
Congratulations to Executive Vice President Peter Glankoff and to our public relations partner, The Dilenschneider Group. They did an outstanding job.
Institute for Exploration President Dr. Robert D. Ballard gave very moving remarks not only on what he felt upon finding the RMS Titanic, but also on his experience of meeting with the families of people who perished on the ship. He reminded everyone that Titanic is a memorial that should be preserved, not desecrated.
Immediately after the event, Vice President for Education and Conservation Programs Kelly Matis and I left for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Annual Directors’ Meeting in Miami. At the meeting we will be introducing several Aquarium CEO’s to our collaborative projects with Marine Life Park in Singapore. Then, in late January, Kelly and her family will travel to Singapore where she will be working with Marine Life Park for a month in the development of their education and conservation programs prior to their opening in late 2012.
At the press conference announcing the new exhibit, I stated that Mystic Aquarium is the largest cultural institution outside of Boston. We are barely 40 years old, but we are 4th in attendance amongst all attractions in New England. The other two places include the Museum of Science and the Museum of Fine Arts, both in Boston, which have been in existence many decades longer and have the benefit of being located in a major metropolitan area. When we add our reach via our educational programs, we are by far the largest resource of our kind in New England, with global reach and impact.
Thursday evening our staff and volunteers will celebrated at a dinner in their honor. While I was not able to be in attendance because of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums meetings, I want to express my profound gratitude to our team. Great institutions are built by people who care about their mission. We are a great institution and getting greater because of our team who are so committed and passionate in their work, every day. Thank you to each and every member of our staff and our volunteers, and to the thousands of members who support our work, for all that you do.
Dear Friend, The New Year begins with much excitement for Sea Research. In late December we completed the arduous task of restructuring the organization’s debt, reducing the debt burden by $15 million with the promise of a 125% match for every dollar invested in debt reduction over the next three years. The Day reported on this story and highlighted the significance of this event for our organization. You can read the story here. Also in December we had a very successful visitation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) visiting accreditation committee. The visitation noted the tremendous progress that Mystic Aquarium has made during the past five years in facilities maintenance, guest services, animal care, exhibits and other key areas. The next step in this process is a hearing scheduled for March 20 at the AZA mid-year meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At that point, the Association will determine whether to award five-year accreditation to our organization, but the visitation looks promising. I am pleased to report that Mystic Aquarium was re-accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammals and Parks. You can view the letter from the Alliance here. Accreditation by AZA is an exhaustive process. They evaluate all aspects of the organization’s health and potential. Particular attention is given to animal care and also to an organization’s financial situation. Each year, some organizations are not accredited and need to take remedial actions. Last year, because of the ongoing discussions relative to debt reduction, I asked the AZA to grant Mystic Aquarium a one year extension of our existing accreditation, which I was very pleased and appreciative that they agreed to. Thank you to everyone who helped to prepare the organization’s application. Special thanks to Senior Vice President for Research and Zoological Operations, Dr. Tracy Romano, who shepherded us through the process. My wife Patti joined me in New York City for some events just before the Holidays, including an annual benefit for children, hosted by Trustee Clay Maitland at the Harvard Club. We were able to stop into the Fox network news studio to see Laurie Macha, Tracy Camp, Jen Flowers and several of our African Penguins as they were interviewed on “Fox and Friends” that morning. Here is the video, and here are two photos.
As always, Laurie and the team did a wonderful job. The program segment highlighted our conservation work in South Africa to protect these endangered animals. Earlier in the month Laurie Macha and Sarah Misslin went to South Africa to assist our partner agency, the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, in rearing baby chicks who would otherwise die. This is part of the effort to conserve as many of the animals as possible so as to boost the population. You can read more about this by following this link. If you notice a slight stiffness to their walk these days, it is because our penguins have reached star status. In addition to appearing on the morning shows, they were recently taped on campus for some segments in Jim Carrey’s forthcoming movie, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” adapted from the popular 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater. Earlier in the month, we were thrilled to welcome Ruff Ruffman, the star of the PBS show “Fetch.” The show recently taped a segment at Mystic Aquarium featuring Justin Richards and some of our Beluga whales. As you can see below, my son Brendan and I enjoyed meeting Ruff.
The appearance of Ruff Ruffman and other characters as well as the introduction of “Winter Waterland” during the Holiday vacation period is part of an overall marketing effort that is aimed at building back attendance. While our revenue remains strong, we want to reinvigorate our marketing and advertising efforts for Mystic Aquarium by emphasizing the fun experiences that families and friends can have by being together here. Senior Vice President for Marketing and Public Affairs, Peter Glankoff, Senior Director of Marketing Andy Wood, and our marketing firm, Caspari McCormick have developed a whole new series of advertising collateral such as these television advertisements which ran during the holidays. Trustee Steve Perrelli, who heads the Marketing Committee of the Board, is always finding ways through which our partner and his company, Coca Cola of Southeastern Connecticut, can be a great partner. Listen to the wonderful Coca Cola advertisement inviting people to Winter Waterland. All in all it was a very successful week and December was a good month for the organization, reflecting growth in attendance to Mystic Aquarium from numerous key markets. In January, we will be offering a “buy one adult, get one child free” promotion. We will also be offering several “thank you” days for the local community. I welcome your input on other ways to promote guest attendance. Much of today’s focus has been on Mystic Aquarium. We have also been making great progress with Immersion Learning, The JASON Project, Institute for Exploration and Ocean Blue Catering. Most notably, under the able watch of Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Denise Armstrong, we completed the transition of The JASON Project from National Geographic Society. This process included securing health care benefits for The JASON Project employees, which proved to be an arduous task. Work is well underway on installing Crittercam in Challenge of the Deep. Be sure to learn more about Crittercam here, and watch for detailed programming on the research behind Crittercam coming soon from The JASON Project. Congratulations and thanks are in order to Vice President of Facilities and Capital Projects, Keith Sorensen. Keith and his team completed the installation of a new power generation system for the campus just in time to receive a $100,000 grant from the State of Connecticut. Well done, Keith. And at the JASON Project, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Bill Jewell reports that a video segment on the Gulf Coast oil spill was completed just before the holidays. This segment will become part of the next JASON curriculum “Forces and Motion.” You can view the video segment here. Special thanks to Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell as she prepares to complete her term. She has been a stalwart supporter of Sea Research Foundation as evidenced by her recent announcement of a $1 million capital grant to the organization. After several decades of public service, we wish her and her husband well. Patti and I were pleased to spend some time with Governor-Elect Dan Malloy and his wife Cathy in mid-December. Governor-Elect Malloy will be sworn in later this week, and I congratulate him and wish him well in this new role. I am very grateful for his continuing interest in the work of Sea Research Foundation and Mystic Aquarium, as well as his understanding of, and commitment, to boosting the state’s investment in promotion of tourism. I would also like to congratulate Lt. Governor-Elect Nancy Wyman, who is equally supportive and whom I admire greatly.
Last week I had the privilege of hosting Senator Joe Lieberman, his wife Hadassah, his stepson and grandchildren at Mystic Aquarium. Senator Lieberman is a frequent visitor, a good man, and has a great sense of humor. Thank you to all of the staff who made his visit such a great experience. During 2011 we will continue to build this community together. We have accomplished so much working as a team and focusing on all of our customers – and both our creditors and the accreditors took special notice of this during their visits, as did Governor Rell in her own remarks at the end of her term. Happy New Year, and I look forward to much continued success with you in 2011! - Steve Coan