Nov. 20th, 2010

nycmermaid: (scubagirl)
Today I finally did something I've been thinking about doing for a long time. I went to an information session for the NY Aquarium Dive Team. The main job of the volunteer dive team is get into the animal tanks and clean out all the algae and the poo. And they do this not only for no pay, but they must provide most of their own diving equipment, which is expensive.

The guy in charge of the program, a dive instructor named Dick, is 75 years old. He takes his work very seriously, and I can tell he cares a lot about the aquarium. A couple of years ago he was offered an early retirement package by WCS and he turned it down. Dick is not at the aquarium for the money. He runs the volunteer program like a sergeant. Everything is very organized and very clean. He went through a thorough checklist of the requirements of the program, as well as the perks. Unlike what I do at the Central Park Zoo, the volunteer divers do real work. They have access to more of the aquarium than we do at the zoo and they seem to be more respected; the divide between staff and volunteer seems not so rigid as it is at the CPZ. Every day you come in, you are assigned to clean a specific area. It might be the penguin tank, or a tank of tropical fish, or of permits and jacks.

Volunteers don't clean the shark tank, but we did get a tour where they took us to the top of the tank, which was awesome. Supposedly a new shark exhibit will be build that will be 10X the size of the current tank, but Dick doesn't think it will be built for at least 4 more years, if it ever happens. The Aquarium is always suffering from budget cuts. The high point of the tour for me was seeing Clarise, a sea lion who used to live at the Central Park Zoo, behind the scenes at the Aquarium with her adorable little pup, born this summer.

The NY Aquarium is not a very good aquarium, I must admit. It is small and in dire need of renovation. Compared with other grand aquariums I've been to, like Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Shedd Aquarium, it's in a sorry state. It's in desperate need of funding. So much that they have to rely on free help to keep its exhibits clean. Did you know that every coin you toss in the koi ponds at the NY Aquarium goes right to the dive team's fund? Next time you're there, chuck in a quarter, will ya?

It will involve working hard, waking up very early in the morning for a long commute, purchasing more equipment, and much learning about procedures as well as about the animals. And I will probably not be able to continue at the Central Park Zoo if I take this on. But I think I am going to. I think it will be worth it.

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