The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has announced that the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores has been named the first place winner of AZA’s Party for the Planet® video contest. The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden placed second in the online public voting contest highlighting inclusive, family-friendly volunteer activities at AZA-accredited facilities. The first and second place winners of the contest will receive a $25,000 and $10,000 conservation donation, respectively, to a conservation program they support.
Party for the Planet®, an eight-week long observance between Earth Day (April 22) and World Oceans Day (June 8) is one of AZA’s largest public engagement efforts to inspire others to respect, protect, and conserve wildlife and wild places. This year, with support from the Disney Conservation Fund, Party for the Planet featured a new theme, “Spring into Action,” encouraging families to volunteer within their communities. AZA-accredited facilities submitted video summaries of the impact of their events, which were evaluated on volunteerism impact, community engagement, and conservation message, and narrowed to ten finalists before going to public vote on Facebook and YouTube.
N.C. Aquarium’s winning video, Restore the Shore: #OverFlo, highlighted the aquarium’s efforts with the community on World Oceans Day to restore shoreline habitat damaged by Hurricane Florence. Together with the North Carolina Coastal Federation and the town of Atlantic Beach, over 70 volunteers participated in dune restoration, marsh grass planting, and clean up events along 5 miles of coastline. The aquarium also hosted on-site activities focused on showing visitors how to create wildlife-friendly gardens and habitats at home. N.C. Aquarium has designated the AZA Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) North Carolina Sea Turtle Conservation Plan as the recipient of the $25,000 donation.
“We had a lot of work to do after the storm to restore our coastline,” said Windy Arey-kent, aquarium education curator. “This was a wonderful opportunity to engage families and members of our community. These activities were educational and fun for participants, valuable for wildlife and habitats, and showcased the aquariums on-going commitment to our community.
Second place winner Oklahoma City Zoo “sprung into action” by hosting their own pollinator planting event at the zoo (top photo) Over 600 guests planted a total of 676 plants while learning the importance of pollinators to a healthy ecosystem. The Oklahoma City Zoo selected Okies for Monarchs, an initiative of the Oklahoma Monarch & Pollinator Collaborative, as the $10,000 donation recipient.
“The Oklahoma City Zoo is extremely grateful to our community supporters who voted for our video and helped us earn this incredible win for Okies for Monarchs and pollinator conservation,” said Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo curator of conservation and science. “As a founding member of Okies for Monarchs, we join them in their efforts to protect these vulnerable insects and know this donation will allow them to continue supporting efforts to educate and inform Oklahomans about the value of all pollinators and the simple steps they can take to protect them.”
Over 120 AZA-accredited facilities took part in Party for the Planet activities this year, with various family-friendly projects ranging from trash cleanups to citizen science to habitat restoration. AZA members hosted over 140 events, engaged over 6,500 volunteers, and dedicated over 16,000 hours to conservation projects. AZA members collected nearly 3,000 pounds of trash, cleaned 115 miles of coastline, planted 40,000 native and pollinator-friendly seeds and plants, and recycled 12,000 pounds of electronics.
The winning videos will be shared and the members recognized, along with the donation recipients, at the AZA Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, in September.