aquarium volunteering
Aquariums and Zoos,  Careers,  Conservation,  Volunteering

5 Reasons Aquarium Volunteering Will Make You a Better Marine Biologist

Dedicating your time to aquarium volunteering is not only good for your community, but it is also good for you and your journey in marine biology. Whether you’re a student or working professional, volunteering at your local aquarium can broaden your perspectives and complement your marine biology career.

As a volunteer at the Birch Aquarium for over two years, I have strengthened my skills in marine biology, networking, and science communication. Furthermore, I’ve gained valuable working knowledge volunteering at special events, whale watching trips, and tide pool excursions.

To explore how volunteering may transform your life and career, read through this list of key aquarium volunteering benefits.

aquarium volunteering
Photo by Trent Haaland

1. Aquarium volunteering will connect you with a diverse network of volunteers.

When you volunteer at an aquarium, you’ll bump into people of all backgrounds. For example, at Birch Aquarium, I’ll volunteer alongside a software engineer one day and then a science writer the next day. With hundreds of volunteers typically on the roster, you’ll meet new people almost every time, all with unique interests. In this volunteer role, you’ll see just how impactful marine biology really is and how it connects people from all walks of life.

One of the best parts of volunteering at an aquarium is that you’ll meet ocean-loving volunteers with lots of ocean hobbies, like scuba diving, snorkeling, or surfing. For instance, in my volunteer experience, I’ve met a number of people who I’ve invited snorkeling or who have offered to help me get SCUBA certified.

At the end of the day, the marine biology community is a welcoming place, and the networking opportunities are endless. Take one step at a time, and muster up the courage to introduce yourself to your fellow volunteers. Perhaps, you’ll find your next SCUBA buddy.

2. You’ll gain valuable marine biology knowledge at an aquarium.

Whether you assist with tide pool touch tanks or present in front of large exhibits, you’ll learn practical marine biology facts every day. Home to various species, aquariums are full of interesting marine life and knowledge. When I volunteer at the aquarium, I strive to learn at least one new marine biology fact a day.

When you volunteer, ask questions and read as often as you can. During your volunteer shift, you might have pamphlets and field guides on hand. Because of how useful these tools can be, I’d suggest browsing through this reading material when you have spare time.

However, in my opinion, the most helpful way to learn new knowledge is to simply speak with your fellow volunteers. Oftentimes, volunteers will be one of the most reliable sources for learning new marine biology facts.

aquarium volunteering
Photo by Kristóf Vizy

3. With aquarium volunteering, you’ll improve your science communication skills.

As an aquarium volunteer, you’ll present exhibit information and answer questions for guests. Therefore, you’ll be the face of the aquarium in many ways. Because of this commitment, it is essential you communicate science in an interactive, clear, and informative manner.

For me, science communication is my favorite part of marine biology. Fortunately, aquarium volunteering is one of the best places to practice science communication. Because you’ll be consistently engaging with the wildlife and guests, you’ll have the opportunity to connect people with the ocean in a variety of inspiring and insightful ways.   

With science communication, making guests feel part of the science experience is important. To help guests feel more engaged, I ask them to make observations. For example, if they’re touching sea anemones in a touch tank, I’ll ask them to tell me what the sea anemone feels like. Additionally, if I’m showing guests shark eggs, I might ask them to make hypotheses about why shark eggs look the way they do.

4. You’ll become a jack of all trades.

While you volunteer at an aquarium, you may gradually take on new roles. Perhaps, you started out helping guests at the touch tanks, and now you work as an aquarist assistant behind the scenes. If you like variety, volunteering at your local aquarium often comes with a multitude of opportunities to try new things.  

For instance, I originally started volunteering only at the touch tanks. Soon, I found myself volunteering on a 100ft whale watching boat and traveling around San Diego for tide pooling trips.

If there’s something you really want to learn more about or help with, it never hurts to ask. You may even invent a new way for volunteers to help around the aquarium.

5. Aquarium volunteering will instill you with newfound hope for ocean conservation.

Inspiring curiosity and engagement, aquariums offer portals into the mysterious and intriguing underwater world. For many guests, visiting the aquarium is an experience they’ll never forget. To many children, visiting the aquarium might just be that pivotal moment that encourages them to pursue marine biology.

Watching people of all ages and backgrounds flock to the aquarium is an uplifting thing to witness. Awe-inspiring and captivating, the ocean draws people from all over the world. As an aquarium volunteer, you’ll see the profound effect the ocean has on the lives of people.

Seeing guests get excited about sharks, whales, and sea turtles serves as a gentle reminder that the ocean is important and worth protecting. When you volunteer, you bridge the gap between people and the environment, inspiring ocean conservation and hope.

aquarium volunteering
Photo by Gabriel Santos

Now that you know some of the benefits of aquarium volunteering, take the plunge and give it a try. Through volunteer work, you may have some of the most rewarding experiences in your marine biology career. From all the impactful relationships you’ll build to all the knowledge you’ll gain, aquarium volunteering is an engaging and inspiring way to connect with marine biology.

As government-mandated lockdowns continue to impact aquariums in California, please consider supporting aquariums in any way you can. For more information on how to help aquariums in California, read this blog post.

If you want to broaden your marine biology knowledge, go to the beach and try tide pooling! To learn all the basics of tide pooling, give this blog post a look.

Hi, I’m a San Diego-based blogger who's passionate about marine biology, finance, and science communication. Having recently graduated from UC San Diego with a bachelor's in marine biology, I am now working on a certificate in science communication. Over the years, I’ve worked in laboratory research and science outreach at aquariums, zoos, and environmental research centers. When I’m not writing, you can find me home brewing, tide pooling, skydiving, playing DnD, or hanging out with my two adopted guinea pigs. Reach out to me anytime, and follow Sand Dollar Wallet!


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