Volunteers with a few hours on their hands and an interest in all things aquatic are encouraged to consider lending their time and skills to the St. Lucie County Aquarium, home to the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit.
To that end, staff left the doors open to the aquarium after hours, welcoming more than two dozen prospective volunteers during the first-in-anyone’s-memory volunteer open house.
Visitors mingled with volunteers, interns and staff while learning about the different positions available and the need for their help. “It’s right up my alley,” said Port St. Lucie resident Lenora Willis. Being retired from the Army, making the drive to the aquarium doesn’t pose a challenge; she’s used to the travel, she said. Willis came into the aquarium for the first time Thursday evening and took in the different exhibits.
“We should learn something every day,” Willis said. She hopes to help the aquarium by going on field outings to collect specimens from the Indian River Lagoon as well as taking photographs.
Both are among the aquarium’s needs.
Marie Petrelis, a Tradition resident, also made the open house her first visit to the aquarium. She said the visit was dual-purpose –not only to see the exhibits, but also to learn how she can help. “For me, it’s administration,” Petrelis said, explaining that she’d rather work behind the scenes in the office and support various projects.
“It boggles my mind,” she said after touring the aquarium. Most surprising, she said, was all the little details that must be attended to and how all the tanks are kept natural.
Other volunteers are needed to help prepare food and handle feedings at the aquarium. “You would be the magic hand,” exhibit manager Bill Hoffman told the gathered volunteer hopefuls.
While taking the tour, they saw a hand drop into the tanks unloading a container of “sea monkeys” and other food for the various fish.
Hoffman said many of the volunteers use that time to talk to the fish – but it’s far more important to listen than to talk. Feeding time is a critical time to take stock of the creatures’ appetite and overall well-being.
“I’m really happy with the number of people” who attended, said volunteer coordinator Jasmine Fox, adding that more people came out than there are open volunteer spots.
The aquarium runs on a limited staff and between 15 and 30 active volunteers. The staff size is enough to take care of the creatures who call the aquarium home – but volunteers help stretch resources and allow the staff to take on new projects and endeavors.
“Volunteers are so passionate,” Fox said. She noted that they often provide different perspectives and input. “We rely on them a lot.” Not every volunteer post requires speaking to groups or even individuals. So even those who are more fish-friendly than they are people-friendly can help out.
Coral gardening is one such task that can be done after hours and at one’s own schedule. Feeding the fish, on the other hand, must be done to the aquarium’s schedule – but it, too, doesn’t require speaking to the general public.
“If you have an interest, you can be plugged into the system,” Fox said.
To see all the volunteer opportunities available and to apply online, visit the aquarium’s website – https://s.si.edu/1j7hRS7 – or contact Jasmine Fox by either calling her at 772-465-3271 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.