Visitor Engagement at Aquariums, Zoos, and Museums for Conservation Impact

New (March 2020) Engagement Guide:

To help engage your visitors on fisheries and related policies, download the Guide to Effectively Engaging the Visiting Public in Fisheries Policy.


Zoos, aquariums, and museums (ZAMs) are uniquely positioned for conservation action because research has indicated that their visitors not only expect, but also trust and appreciate information about how they can help in mission-related matters. With zoos and aquariums, as well as many science museums, this includes ways to help advance conservation. Furthermore, engaging people during a visit can be part of a larger effort; it is not just about individual actions but about collective influence and impact where ZAMs can make a real difference.

The following provide a few examples of how ZAMs have worked with The Ocean Project to raise visitor awareness, document visitor opinions, and enhance visitor experiences on a variety of issues:

  • Summer 2019 collaboration with six aquariums -- New England Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, The Florida Aquarium, Texas State Aquarium, and Seattle Aquarium, with thanks to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. A related pilot is highlighted in the David and Lucile Packard Foundation-supported Heartwired to Love the Ocean project. And the focus is U.S.-based visitor-serving institutions but some of the lessons learned are being applied in other countries. The US Congress is likely to revisit these fisheries and ocean conservation issues in 2020. ZAMs can play a critical role informing the public about the importance of these policies. Please let us know if you would be interested in participating!
  • Collaborated with 8 SEA LIFE Centers in both coastal and inland locations on a campaign focused on creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This campaign based on a successful pilot from 2016 demonstrating visitor interest in expanding the US network of MPAs

Click here for more on our Innovative Solutions Grants+ program that supported ZAMs on effective ways to engage with their target audiences, especially youth and minorities. Lessons learned have been helping in many ways to advance effective visitor engagement for conservation impact.

Conservation Policy Engagement

Since our founding in the 1990s, The Ocean Project has collaborated with others to support our network of partner ZAMs to get involved on policy issues, both individually and collectively on a variety of issues (climate change and ocean acidification; fisheries; federal (US) appropriations for environmental education (at NOAA and EPA); campaigns for marine protected areas, in the U.S. and protection of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Ocean conservation is at an important juncture in the U.S., with reauthorization of the nation’s primary law governing management of our fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), our nation's principal law governing management of marine fisheries.

In 2017 we launched a new initiative to support ZAMs in getting more involved to effectively inform science-based federal fisheries policy and advance action for healthy, sustainable marine ecosystems.This initiative is funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

To supplement the webinars (see below) and in-person training programs, like the 'advocacy boot camp' we helped coordinate at the AZA 2019 Conference, there are some great online, web-based trainings for nonprofits. Connect to the latest in the Learn Foundation Law suite of trainings to support your advocacy work, including this free course, “Advocacy & Lobbying: Rules for Public Charity Grantees of Private Foundations.” The Moore Foundation joined the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to launch this online course to help their grantees and other nonprofit organizations better understand the laws governing advocacy and lobbying.

2020 Campaign Focus: Forage Fish

Webinar Series: Making Conservation Happen

The "Making Conservation Happen" webinar series focuses on how to strategically, safely, and cost-effectively get more involved in conservation policy engagement and advocacy. The webinars are recommended for those who interact with guests, community partners, public officials, and supporters.

Sign up here to get information on upcoming webinars.

Held (mostly) on the first Friday of each month during the lunch /brunch hour (1pm east coast/10am west coast), these webinars are a great opportunity to host a professional development session with your team. Most are 30-60 minutes.

Next Webinar (held monthly on first Fridays throughout the year):

March 6: Ensuring science-based fisheries policies: A review of a successful public and policy engagement project, alongside plans under which together we can apply those lessons to support the proposed Forage Fish Conservation Act and a related national campaign you can join to help protect and restore our ocean.

Why: Congress is planning to revisit and revise our national ocean fisheries policies. These policies are centered on the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and also include other laws and regulations, existing and proposed, such as the recently introduced Forage Fish Conservation Act.

Six aquariums recently teamed up with The Ocean Project to develop and test an approach to public and policy engagement, with very strong response from visitors and policymakers alike. The Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), working in collaboration with The Ocean Project, is now taking those lessons learned and applying them to a campaign centered on supporting the Forage Fish Conservation Act, with easy yet effective roles for other aquariums, zoos, and museums to play.

Featured Speakers:

  • Douglas Meyer, Strategic Advisor to The Ocean Project. Douglas has played a key role in strategic communications, including market research analysis, and now working with many of our aquarium and zoo partners as they integrate and evaluate those insights in their own priorities and programs, including this effort funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, as well as prior efforts under our Innovative Solutions Grants + Program funded by NOAA.
  • Kim McIntyre, Director, Aquarium Conservation Partnership. Kim will discuss ACP's forage fish conservation campaign launching this spring, to raise awareness on the importance of forage fish species, and to support the passage of the Forage Fish Conservation Act.
  • Moderated by and including Five Minutes Inside the Beltway with Tom Adams, Policy Advisor for The Ocean Project


Previous 2020 Webinars

  • Webinar #17/February 7: Hollywood has Awards Season and Zoos and Aquariums have Event Season: Party for the Planet and Make Every Day Earth Day and/or World Oceans Day (PDF of Webinar 17 FINAL), with Rob Vernon, Senior Vice President, Communications & Marketing; Katie Wood, Conservation and Biodiversity Manager, Earth Day Network; Jeff Demain, World Oceans Day Manager; moderated by and including Five Minutes Inside the Beltway with Tom Adams, Policy Advisor for The Ocean Project
  • Webinar #16/January 10, 2020: Engaging & Elevating the Impact of Climate Change by Making 2020 the Super Year of the Ocean (PDF of Webinar 16) with Justin Kenney, Senior Advisor to the U.N. Foundation for Climate, Energy and Environment; with Tom Adams, Policy Advisor for The Ocean Project

2018-2019 Webinars (title links to recording and also PDF link of presentations provided)

  • Webinar #1: The Policy Arena and Your Untapped Advocacy Potential (PDF) with Andrea Densham, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, Shedd Aquarium; Matt Mullin, Marine Fish Conservation Network; and with Tom Adams, Policy Advisor for The Ocean Project (April 13, 2018)
  • Webinar #2: Using Your Existing Resources to Have Your Voice Heard (PDF) with Katie Cubina, Senior Vice President, Mystic Aquarium; Mark Antoniewicz, Director of Communications, Hip Hop Caucus; and with Tom Adams, Policy Advisor for The Ocean Project (May 4, 2018)
  • Webinar #3: Fishing for Public Engagement: Results of Three Pilot Projects in Public Engagement (PDFwith Kelly Matis and Katie Cubina, Mystic Aquarium; Melanie Baker, Seattle Aquarium; Melanie Kudra, Texas State Aquarium; and with Douglas Meyer, Strategy Advisor for The Ocean Project (June 15, 2018)
  • Webinar #4: Looking Ahead to the new Congress and Opportunities for Zoos, Aquariums, and Museums (PDF) with Jean Flemma, Ocean Defense Initiative; Colin Sheldon, Assistant Director of Federal Affairs, Wildlife Conservation Society; and with Tom Adams, Policy Advisor for The Ocean Project (December 7, 2018)
  • Webinar #5: No Time to Engage Like the Present (PDFwith Amy Kenney, Executive Director, National Ocean Protection Coalition; Rich Block, CEO, Santa Barbara Zoo and Chair, AZA Government Affairs Committee; and with Tom Adams, Policy Advisor , The Ocean Project (January 11, 2019)
  • Webinar #6: Beyond Congress: Executive Branch Processes that Can Advance Conservation for the Ocean, Fish and Other Wildlife (PDF) with Kris Sarri, President and CEO, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation; Kerston Swartz, Public Affairs and Advocacy Manager, Woodland Park Zoo; and coordinated by Tom Adams, Policy Advisor for The Ocean Project (Feb 1, 2019)
  • Webinar #7: World Oceans Day 2019: Engaging your visitors in conservation action (PDF) with Samantha Mackiewicz, World Oceans Day Director, The Ocean Project and Baylee Ritter, Program Associate, The Ocean Project (March 1, 2019)
  • Webinar #8: Youth Activism for Conservation: Empowering young people to become ocean champions (PDF) with Rachael Coccia, Director of Youth Initiatives, The Ocean Project; Rachael Bell-Irving, Digital Outreach Coordinator, Online Programs at Ocean Wise; Danni Washington, Co-Founder of Big Blue and You and Co-Founder of Sea Youth Rise Up (April 5, 2019)
  • Webinar #9: AZA Advocacy Day Briefing and Strategic Messaging Tips to Advance Conservation (PDF) with Jennifer Keaton, VP for Congressional Affairs at AZA; Josh Mogerman, National Media Director, Natural Resources Defense Council; and coordinated by Tom Adams, Strategic Advisor for The Ocean Project (May 3, 2019)
  • Webinar #10: Want to bring the visiting public into public policy? Here’s your chance! (PDF) This webinar showcased the results from a recent survey about zoo and aquarium interest in engaging visitors on public policy issues; and presented an opportunity for interested zoos and aquariums to ‘test the waters’ by participating in an emerging campaign based on a successful pilot project. Featured participants from the pilot project sites; coordinated by Douglas Meyer, Strategic Advisor to The Ocean Project (June 14, 2019)
  • Webinar #11: Improving Management & Conservation of Forage Fish (PDF) with Charlotte Runzel, Policy Associate, National Audubon Society and Tom Adams, Strategic Advisor to The Ocean Project  (July 12, 2019)
  • Webinar #12: AZA Conference Engagement Workshop & Panels Preview (PDF) with Stephanie Joseph, Curator of Educator, NY Aquarium/WCS; Rob Vernon, Senior VP, Communications & Marketing; Tom Adams, Strategy Advisor, The Ocean Project (August 2, 2019)

    • AZA 2019 Conference conservation engagement opportunities that The Ocean Project is involved with include:
      • Conservation Engagement and Advocacy Skills Boot Camp - day-long pre-conference workshop
      • Empowering our Youth: Giving Passion a Platform
      • Becoming True Agents for Change: Mobilizing Our Audiences to Take Meaningful Action for Conservation
      • Making the Most of Special Conservation Days
  • Webinar #13: The 116th Congress Approaches its “Half Time” (PDF) with Colin Sheldon Assistant Director of Federal Affairs, WCS; Tom Adams, Strategy Advisor, The Ocean Project (October 4, 2019)
  • Webinar #14: Starting Early — The Importance of Cultivating State and Local Officials Early in Their Careers
    • Building relationships with local and state officials, including examples of how other institutions are engaged in this area, and featuring the National Aquarium’s state legislature cultivation program
    • Engagement tactics you can use/some of the techniques you use to cultivate a potential board member, donor, or partner are virtually the same needed for doing so with public officials
    • Featured Speaker: Maggie Ostdahl, National Aquarium’s Conservation Policy Manager, will discuss how their recent reception for state legislators and their families fits into their cultivation program and how these relationships benefit them at the State Capitol, and beyond. Moderated by Tom Adams, Policy Advisor, The Ocean Project
  • Webinar #15: 2020 Preview: Conservation Engagement and Action Programs, Activities, and Policy Opportunities (PDF)
    Featured Speakers:
    • Jennifer Keaton (Vice President for Legislative Affairs, AZA) will share the Government Affairs Department’s 2020 plans and key events to put on your calendar
    • Kim McIntyre (Aquarium Conservation Partnership Director) will discuss ACP’s ongoing activities and how they will carry over into 2020
    • Bill Mott (Executive Director, The Ocean Project) and team, will discuss The Ocean Project's three main initiatives for 2020, including update on World Oceans Day, and with Baylee Ritter on youth initiative and Douglas Meyer on visitor engagement for conservation impact.
    • Moderated by Tom Adams, Policy Advisor

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Let us know if you have suggestions for upcoming webinars. Send an email to bmott (at)

Latest News and Info

To complement the webinar series and provide the latest updates on the conservation policy engagement initiative, we have an ongoing blog series, including posts from some of our key partners who are doing cutting edge work in this space. Like the webinars, part of the purpose of the blogs is to help demystify advocacy and provide ZAMs and our other partners with a better understanding of how your institution can meaningfully engage on issues important to your mission.