Volunteers support aquarium amid pandemic


Diving into tanks, maintaining grounds, preparing diets, and educating guests — it’s all a day in the life of a volunteer at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. 

Volunteers offer their support aquarium-wide, from working on special projects and clerical work to preparing food for the animals. Dive volunteers plunge into cold waters to clean exhibits, horticulture volunteers maintain the native flora spanning aquarium grounds and interpretive volunteers share their knowledge with guests. Behind every department is a group of volunteers, contributing to the aquarium’s mission and allowing staff to continue their efforts, such as educational outreach and injured animal triage. 

The impact goes beyond the aquarium, with many volunteers taking time to sift microplastics from local beaches, spreading plastic pollution awareness and traveling for days at a time to take educational programs to schools. 

Volunteers are essential to the everyday operations of the aquarium. They dedicate their time, effort and passion; and perhaps now more than ever. 

As COVID-19 impacted Lincoln County, volunteers were unable to immediately return to their familiar routine during aquarium closures. They adapted to changing schedules, hiatuses and mandates as necessary. 

Those with stellar sewing skills busily accrued hours from home, contributing to the more than 200 cloth facemasks distributed to onsite staff and returning volunteers. Virtual socials were scheduled using Zoom, where volunteers connected and shared what was currently growing in the garden, what they saw on their beach walk that day and the great books they’d been reading. 

When the aquarium reopened in early fall, one-fifth of the volunteers returned. Measures were taken to promote distancing, such as hybrid schedules and an increase in outdoor opportunities to reduce volunteer overlap. Months later, one-third of the original corps has returned, eager to help guests connect with the awe-inspiring nature of the Oregon coast. 

New volunteer applications come in regularly, but some volunteers have been with the aquarium since the beginning. A common sentiment among new and seasoned volunteers alike is how rewarding the role is. 

“I was originally attracted to the Oregon Coast Aquarium for the opportunity to educate visitors on marine issues,” said Bob Ferris, who celebrated his one-year anniversary in October. “During the pandemic, I have also grown to appreciate how valuable the aquarium is as a sanctuary and healing place for those seeking normalcy and solace during these challenging times. As an interpreter, I find that I experience all of these beneficial effects, only more frequently and deeper.” 

The Oregon Coast Aquarium recognizes and thanks its volunteers for their efforts and loyalty. 

“We are incredibly fortunate to have this community of selfless, considerate, and enthusiastic individuals,” said Beth Hawkyard, volunteer services manager. “Their involvement, whether virtually or onsite, has been a crucial element in making it through this pandemic together.” 

About the Oregon Coast Aquarium 

The Oregon Coast Aquarium creates unique and engaging experiences that connects people to the Oregon coast and inspires ocean conservation. An accredited Association of Zoos & Aquariums institution, this 501(c)3 nonprofit organization is ranked as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S. The aquarium is located at 2820 SE Ferry Slip Road, Newport. For current schedule information, go online at aquarium.org or call 541-867-3474. Follow the aquarium on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates. 

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