Written by Samuel Tse
This summer, I was able to volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of their Teen Conservation Leaders program (TCL). Working at the aquarium is something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I first visited the aquarium during an elementary school field trip, and this summer, that dream became a reality.
For a half of my shifts as a volunteer, I was on something called “guide shift.” I was paired up with experienced guides every week, who had been volunteering at the aquarium from anywhere between two to 20 years. From them, I was able to pick up new pieces of information here and there. Their guidance really helped me develop my skills as a guide throughout the summer. During these shifts, I would go from exhibit to exhibit, according to my schedule, and I was able to interact with the guests in any way I wanted. I was even able to work at the touch pools, teaching people about the animals as they interacted with marine life, such as sea cucumbers or gumboot chitons for the first time.
On the other half of my shifts, I was a student ambassador. I was able to do all sorts of activities from holding tubes of jellyfish to looking for animals, such as otters, out in the bay. This really allowed me to learn about conservation and sustainability of the ocean, which is the main message the aquarium tries to send to their guests. I found it fun because I felt it had a more focused purpose than guide shift, which was more open-ended, since most of its focus was tied around specific animals or exhibits.
One interaction with a guest that stood out to me this summer was with a seven-year-old girl from Malaysia. I found it really easy to connect with her about how recycling and throwing away trash properly could help preserve marine life, and we ended up talking for 15 minutes about ways she could help save the animals. It really touched my heart when she started saying that she would “toss my rubbish in the rubbish can to save the sea turtles.” It was incredible to see how someone so young could possess so much knowledge and compassion for such an important issue.
While it was fun to just look at the animals in the aquarium such as the adorable penguins and otters, it is important to remember that we have a profound effect on them and their environment. From eating sustainable seafood to our carbon footprint, we can affect the entire ocean ecosystem with our own choices everyday. While things such as recycling and alternative transportation are the norm here in Palo Alto, we have to remember that there are many other communities across the globe who are just now starting to take in those ideas and implement them. A number of guests I talked to throughout the summer had no idea global warming was occurring, much less that they should decrease their consumption of single-use plastics and use reusable bags or water bottles instead.
This was the most exciting summer I’ve ever had. It took a lot of dedication on my part and my parents part, having to make the multi-hour trip back and forth everyday that I had a shift, but it made it worth it as I got to know more people through carpooling and taking the bus with other students who had the same passion for marine life as I did. These new connections that I made this summer are bonds that I hope will never be broken. Doing things like feeding the otters and going behind the scenes in addition to a kayaking trip and a sleep over at the aquarium were really cool perks in the program, but I will never forget the countless hours I spent with my group (Sunday/ Monday group represent!) and friends, and my time as a guide on the floor interacting with the many guests that passed through the aquarium from around the world.
—Tse, a senior, is a News Editor.