An era has to come to an end for this year’s group of 41 Conservation Youth Team volunteers. The CYTs had a hands-on, minds-on summer filled with tons of educational, productive and fun experiences like trail-hosting and showcasing artifacts to more than 54,000 visitors at the Zoo to assisting with summer camp programs and even venturing off Zoo grounds on conservation day-trips. Last week the CYTs traveled to the Virginia Aquarium for their third and final conservation event of the summer.
The CYTs began the day learning about the Virginia Aquarium’s Stranding Response Program. This program is responsible for rendering aid to all marine mammals and sea turtles that come ashore in Virginia. They learned about the harm that plastic pollution causes to marine life and all life that depends on our oceans, including humans! Next, they participated in a trash clean up around the Aquarium property along the water where the CYTs collected 23.2 pounds of trash and hundreds of pounds of forgotten wood. Finally, the teens had time to explore the Aquarium and learn about the organization’s animals and conservation efforts locally and internationally, including their sea turtle rehabilitation program in Virginia Beach and participation in the annual coral reproduction workshop in Curacao. Everyone who came had a great time learning about marine pollution in our area and what we can do to help local habitats and our oceans.
Locally, the CYTs have been focusing on how climate change and sea level rise affects and will affect Hampton Roads and the overall health of our waterways and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Our CYTs will be the future environmental leaders in our area, so it is important that they understand these issues.
The CYT program began in 2014 and is based off of a similar teen volunteer program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The program replaced a junior docent program after the teen volunteers began to express that, as a CYT, they learned more about conservation and the environment, were able to interact with their fellow volunteers more and had multiple opportunities to venture out into the community to learn more about other organizations’ conservation impacts.
This year’s conservation trips and the CYT program would not be possible without generous support from the community. The Virginia Zoo applied for and was awarded a grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation (HRCF) for the Conservation Youth Team program! The grant was used to fund transportation to the three off-site Conservation Events and assist the CYTs with conservation action projects. The HRCF awarded the Zoo $47,492 to fund the next three years of the CYT program. The grant also helped to create a Teen Programs Specialist position, which Megan Feick, previous Zoo Crew volunteer and intern, accepted earlier this year. This position allowed the Zoo to expand the conservation education that we focus on for the CYT program.
“We’ve always done a really good job focusing on global issues that affect our animals. We still teach all of the global conservation issues and solutions, but we are now able to teach about what’s happening in our own ecosystems as well,” said Nicole Miller, CYT and Community Outreach Coordinator. “The Teen Programs Specialist is also able to supervise the CYTs more closely to ensure that we are sharing our conservation messages on grounds more effectively and cohesively.”
The Zoo is grateful to have been awarded the grant and is excited to be able to continue to further a program that not only offers teens a summer of volunteering, developing important job and life skills, building self-confidence and earning community service hours, but allows the Zoo to complete day-to-day operations with the help of these hard-working teens! The Zoo plans to begin focusing on reaching out to vulnerable teenagers in Hampton Roads so that we can diversify the program and reach out to more varied populations.