Olly Reed, Assistant Marketing Manager at The Aquarium says “There has actually been an aquarium in Plymouth since 1988. Initially housed at the British Marine Biological Association, a new much larger aquarium was built in the Barbican district in 1988 and was designated to be The National Marine Aquarium. Leading the way, the NMA was the first aquarium in the UK to be run as a separate charity solely dedicated to the education and conservation of the marine environment”.
“The NMA welcomes around 300,000 visitors per year, including 30,000 school students who engage with our innovative schools’ programme. Their awe-inspiring exhibits featuring marine animals from near and far provide an environment that intrigues, inspires and motivates visitors to connect with our Oceans.” Said Josh McCarty, Head of Marketing at the NMA.
What are your core values, what do you stand for?
More than an attraction, the NMA is a conservation and education charity.
Over the last 20 years, the NMA has been connecting people with our Oceans and successfully promoting pro-Ocean behaviour.
“We keep up to date with the most current conservation psychology research and we know that to effectively inspire behaviour change in an individual, ‘raising awareness’ or ‘sharing knowledge’ is not enough. Research shows that people are more likely to be pro-environmental if they have a connection to the environment, so our goal is to help people connect with the Oceans and adopt pro-Ocean behaviour.” Comments Helen Gowans, Public Engagement Coordinator at the NMA.
What would you say has been the most notable event/s in the 20 years of the Aquarium being in operation?
The School Outreach Officers will be travelling to schools in the South West, Newcastle and Cardiff to deliver an exciting programme offering unique opportunities to combine core ideas with cross-cutting concepts, art and creativity.
“We use a fun, participatory and interactive approach which encourages children to make magnificent marine discoveries in the comfort of their own classroom. Our new top of the range VR equipment allows students to fully immerse themselves in a deep sea learning experience, diving to depths of 800 meters and use sonar equipment to track and observe the feeding behaviour of an Atlantic Sperm whale in pursuit of a Giant Squid – it’s really exciting!” said Stu Higgs, NMA Schools Manager.
What programmes do you have in place for future generations to learn about the importance of what you do?
The NMA aims to enhance the protection of marine life and biodiversity. We feel that this ultimate goal can be achieved by engaging our visitors with the amazing marine environment in a fun and experiential way.
Our Discovery and Learning team encourages visitors to value and want to protect our Oceans by engaging and effective learning programmes for schools and the wider public.
Stu Higgs, NMA Schools Manager said, “In order to deliver these programmes we have developed four principles of learning; learning from fun, learning from experience, learning from science and learning from people. This approach has been really successful for us and allows us to effectively reach thousands of students each year. We also deliver learning activities for schools to educate young people from their foundation years to university students offering a unique programme with our award-winning learning space, JustAddH2O”.
As a self funded charity, how can people support your work? What membership options do you have?
Josh McCarty, Head of Marketing at the NMA said, “From attending one of our beach cleans, supporting us by taking part in one of our evening ticket events, bringing your friends to the aquarium, volunteering or arranging a fundraiser on Facebook there are lots of great ways that people can support the Aquarium”.
The NMA will also be launching a membership programme next month which will allow visitors to access exclusive benefits and experiences.
What events do you have planned for your 20th Birthday?
“To celebrate our 20th birthday year the National Marine Aquarium is holding more events than ever before. Not only are we hosting our usual family holiday themes, school activities and VIP Behind the Scenes tours, this year we are focusing on showcasing the work the charity does by involving and supporting the community as much as possible”. Comments Helen Gowans, Public Engagement Coordinator at the NMA.
Events so far have included twenty birthday beach cleans, a NMA birthday boat trip, a special birthday Sleeping with Sharks Sleepover, a birthday Yoga at the Aquarium and a big family event that opened the Aquarium up for 250 lucky people to attend for completely free!
What better way to celebrate twenty years of Ocean conservation than with 20 beach cleans. The birthday beach cleans took place each weekend, they started back in March, and ran until the end of June”. Not only did they tidy up rubbish found on the coast line but anyone who joined them could get involved in exploring the local area and ask the team any questions about what they might have found.
Why are these cleans so important- what effects will the waste have on our marine life?
Helen Gowans, Public Engagement Coordinator at the NMA said, “As seen in the news and in such programmes as Blue Planet 2, waste like plastic is currently a huge issue in our Oceans, but each of us can make a difference.”
Research suggests that there could be more plastic than fish in the Ocean by 2050 and because of this the NMA is doing its part to educate people about their options and create a vision of a world supporting health Oceans to sustain all life.
Awareness has been growing substantially in recent years on the impact of waste on our Oceans. Has this had an effect on the support you receive at the NMA?
“In the UK we have seen a significant shift in people’s attitude towards the use of unsustainable single use plastics and other impacts on our Oceans. The Aquarium is working to reduce, reuse and recycle, and as part of the process, was the first attraction in the UK to operate a closed loop recycling system with partners Langage Farm.” Said Josh McCarty.
In 2017 the NMA again achieved the prestigious gold award from the Green Tourism Awards Scheme, qualifiers for this were reducing single use plastics, and operating an electric car for educational outreach courtesy of Vospers Motorhouse.
Olly, Assistant Marketing Manager says “We have seen greater engagement in the community with our various community projects as well as with our schools outreach programme. The One Plymouth cup and drinks bottles designed to reduce single use waste are another great example of local organisations supporting our cause”.
Do you cater for special events?
Josh McCarty said, “The Aquarium provides a unique setting with facilities for everything from yoga nights to scientific lectures, weddings, to special birthdays, silver service dinners to business breakfast and even boat trips”. The dedicated NMA Functions Team will work with you to ensure your event is as special as our venue.
What about your future plans for the charity- (a little broad I know!)
Josh McCarty, Head of Marketing at the NMA said, “As an educational charity the team delivers formal curriculum-led learning to 30,000 children on site, and a further 10,000 through regional outreach. We have set ourselves a target of reaching 1 million school children and young families, within the next five years.”