Gulf Coast

January 2011

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.

Tub Time     Adopt a Penguin

 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.

Steve, Brendan and 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

August 5, 2010

Well, I have maintained radio silence through the severe heat and humidity of July!  I missed you – or at least writing to you – but it has been a whirlwind pace, indeed.  This posting is sort of my version of what I did this summer! There is a hornet nest outside of my office that has been there since late last fall.  The hornets are working hard to build the nest, and it keeps getting bigger each day.  It is amazing to watch them in their deliberateness, and sometimes I look up at them and wonder a bit at the similarities and differences of our existence.  And then I go back to work… ___

June 16, 2010

As I write this, I am in Belfast for the World Ocean Council summit on ocean sustainability.  Belfast is, of course, a city with a troubled history but a place that has worked hard to overcome its past. I will write more about that in my next post.

]An aerial view of Belfast.As I write this, I am in Belfast for the World Ocean Council summit on ocean sustainability.  Belfast is, of course, a city with a troubled history but a place that has worked hard to overcome its past. I will write more about that in my next post.
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The nearby Dunluce Castle.

In the meantime, I am pleased to join President’s Councilor Carleen Lyden-Kluss, who is executive director of the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) at this conference. Sea Research Foundation, through the leadership of late Trustee Bill Drakos, helped to found the association two years ago.  NAMEPA is focused on helping build bridges between maritime industries, particularly the shipping industry, and environmental interests. I miss Bill very much, but his spirit lives on. The World Ocean Council meeting is dealing with several issues that pertain directly to the work of Sea Research Foundation, including the emergence of marine spatial planning, which is an approach to evaluating large swaths of the ocean to determine best uses, and also issues pertaining to marine sound, an emerging area of research that will be a key focus of our own research efforts in the future. One of the speakers at the summit summed up the essence of these various efforts by stating, “We need to think of the oceans less as an industrial platform and more as an environmental space.”  The same is true in terms of other ways in which we use and abuse the oceans in our daily lives.  Marine spatial planning is, in essence, a holistic approach to thinking about the ocean as an environmental space that has many potential uses and, therefore, requires thoughtful and data-driven approaches to those uses.

The Gulf Coast crisis continues to unfold in a horrific way.  Our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands of people who are impacted by this disaster and especially to the many workers at BP, Transcontinental, NOAA, the United States Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our colleagues at the non-profit organizations along the coast who are scurrying to address the complex and unprecedented set of issues that are emerging. I am very pleased that Sea Research Foundation Trustee Terry Garcia, who is executive vice president of National Geographic Society, has been selected by President Barack Obama to serve on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission.  Terry serves on several committees at Sea Research Foundation, including the Institute for Exploration committee.  We have an excellent partnership with National Geographic on several fronts, and Terry has been an outstanding leader of our organization.

Terry Garcia. Photo:

Prior to joining National Geographic, Terry was the deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  He is an expert on ocean policy issues and cares deeply about the environment. 

I asked Vice President for Education and Conservation Programs Kelly Matis to summarize Sea Research Foundation’s efforts related to the Gulf Coast crisis.  Here is what she wrote: On Thursday, June 10, a cross-functional team of zoological operations, education & public conservation programs, guest services, membership, development and public relations staff met to discuss the organization’s response to the Gulf Coast oil spill.  A number of action steps were identified that will enhance Sea Research’s commitment.  In the next week, information will be distributed to all staff to assist in answering questions that staff and/or guests have. A team of spokespeople from a variety of departments were identified to assist with the requests for information and interviews from the press.  Lunchtime seminars will be hosted during which Sea Research staff can learn more about the information disseminated at the symposium in Louisiana that Dr. Allison Tuttle and MaryEllen Mateleska attended, as well as the work that Dr. Tuttle completed with oiled sea turtles at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans.  A phone number and e-mail address are being established to make sure that all questions from the public are answered in an accurate and timely manner. Information for the public will be displayed near the loggerhead sea turtle exhibit on the main floor.  A panel discussion will be held, utilizing the software currently used for  First Responder trainings and Immersion “Meet the Scientist” events, so that people will have the opportunity to ask questions directly of aquarium scientists and educators.  These actions will help ensure that Sea Research staff and the public are well-informed about what is happening in the Gulf, as well as what they can do locally to make a difference. 

As Kelly noted, Staff Veterinarian & Director of Animal Care Dr. Allison Tuttle and Instructor and Public Conservation Programs Manager MaryEllen Mateleska were in the Gulf Coast region during the first week of June for a meeting of scientific leaders on the emerging crisis. The meeting was sponsored by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, of which we are a member.  Here is their report: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Scientific Symposium brought 200 non-federal scientists to Baton Rouge, LA with an additional 75 participants through video conferencing to discuss the impacts of the current Gulf Coast oil spill.  Dr. Maria McNutt, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, updated the group on the Department of Interior’s objective to look for effects of the spill on a wide range of species, ecosystems, and ecosystems services while also working to determine an accurate oil flow rate (now estimated at as much as 60,000 barrels [more than 2.5 million gallons] of oil per day). Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator NOAA, discussed the goal of determining the short and long term effects on coastal communities and ecosystems of the oil and the over 800,000 gallons of dispersants that have already been used.  With over 37 percent of the Gulf Coast fisheries already closed and 250 stranded sea turtles to date, oil track behavior is being modeled paying particular attention to the loop current and the approaching storm season. Four break-out groups worked to determine information gaps and priorities for short and long-term research needs on the oil spill’s ecological effects, socioeconomic effects, extent and magnitude and tracking of dispersed oil at the surface and depth.  The groups determined the need for: health assessments of threatened, endangered and commercially important species; research into the media perceptions of the oil spill; an increase in educational programs at all levels of education; and a better understanding of the chemistry and phase behavior of the oil itself.  Although each group worked independently, all groups noted a lack of communication between federal partners and non-federal scientists as well as a pronounced lack of necessary information being disseminated to the general public. The Consortium for Ocean Leadership will compile all of the break-out groups’ findings and is looking to host additional workshops for Gulf Coast scientists to create a definitive plan for the proposed research priorities.  We are looking forward to using the information from this meeting to continue to be a resource for accurate oil spill information and education through the Sea Research Foundation Gulf oil spill web pages.

Dr. Tuttle spent several days caring for oiled turtles and she writes: My eyes were opened to the true gravity of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill during my recent trip to Baton Rouge to attend a working group symposium on the oil spill situation sponsored by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. The White House asked for this meeting, and leaders from all areas convened to discuss the current action plan related to the oil spill and prioritize goals moving forward in four areas: quantifying oil spilling into the Gulf; tracking and projecting oil movement; and studying the ecosystem and socioeconomic effects of the spill. Government experts, representatives from funding organizations and scientists were all present to offer opinions and input, and BP sent representatives keen to listen and provide assurance that required actions would be taken. As a veterinarian, I was naïve to the challenges of determining details I thought were simple to calculate. For example, how do we quantify the amount of oil spilling out, or how do we best project where the ocean currents will carry it? I was surprised to learn that our top oceanographic scientists, both government and academic alike, were similarly perplexed. I was eager to discuss with my working group the impact of the oil on the ecosystem, and most specifically, on the living components ranging from the macrofauna to the smaller creatures of greater total biomass that support the food web. The comprehensive effects of this spill on the Gulf ecosystem will likely be immeasurable, but it is of paramount importance that the health of our wildlife species, especially those of threatened or endangered status or that are fished for human consumption, is assessed to the fullest potential and with the best science, and that the balance of the environment that sustains these animals be gauged and supported.

Dr. Allison Tuttle with a sea turtle at the Audubon Nature Institute

Dr. Tuttle examining a turtle's eye

Click here to read more about her experiences working with sea turtles in Louisiana.

Many people have been asking about the role of our Institute for Exploration and Dr. Robert Ballard in assisting with the disaster.  Dr. Ballard has been in regular communication with engineers working on closing the well.  He notes, however, that the oil industry is the only sector with the technical expertise and knowledge base to work in such extreme environments.  As a geologist, Dr. Ballard is one of the world’s experts on deep ocean structure and systems, and he and his team are well-known for their expertise in developing deep ocean robotic systems.  He notes, however, that only specialized and very rugged deep ocean tools such as those BP is using could withstand the pressure and circumstances of this situation. 

I will be back stateside on Sunday.  See you next week!

May 4, 2010

As I write this, Sea Research Foundation is planning a coordinated response to the growing environmental crisis in the Gulf Coast region.  As I have noted in a previous post, those who work in energy generation fields do so with great danger to themselves.  The human cost of energy consumption was again evident last week when 11 workers on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig were killed when it exploded.  Even as the environmental crisis worsens, we should remember them and pay tribute to them. This environmental disaster is of epic proportion, perhaps worse than the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989