– By Stacey Ludlum, director of zoo and aquarium planning and design
Recently, PGAV Destinations embarked on the implementation of a corporate volunteer program, PGAVIA, focusing (at least initially) on conservation efforts. A sizable portion of our work involves animals (at zoos, aquariums, and theme parks) and usually attempts to communicate a conservation message to the public in an effort to inspire guests to take conservation action. We therefore figured PGAVIA would be an appropriate place to start. We hoped it would be an inspiring place to start. To walk the talk, so to speak. Let me tell you why…
Several years ago, I was lucky enough to spend a year and a half living in the wildlife paradise of the Gulf Coast of Florida, where a family of river otters living in the retention pond of my condo community reminded me of how real and proximate human-wildlife conflict is. I was inspired.
I soon signed up with Mote Marine to be a Turtle Patroller—I spent my Saturday mornings from dawn sometimes until noon, walking a one-mile stretch of beach in search of sea turtle nests. Our goal was two-fold:
Collect data on the nests (where they were placed, how many days until hatching, how many eggs in the nest, and how many hatched);
Protect the nests until hatching.
Although I only volunteered on Saturdays, dedicated Patrollers worked every day during the nesting season–roughly May through September.
Near the end of the season, the examination of post-hatch nests required us to dig down into the beach sand, much like the mother turtles did when laying her eggs, to find how many eggs hatched and how many remained. It was tiring, hard work; no-see-ums bit our faces and ankles; our muscles ached digging out the nests; and once the sun came out, it was HOT. But this was my favorite part, because, often as we were digging, we’d come across stranded hatchlings—those that hadn’t quite made it up through the sand, out of the nests. I’m not sure if they were stragglers, or if they hit hard packed sand that was impossible to dig through, but either way, without our help, the day-old turtles would likely never had made their way to the ocean.
When I moved back to St. Louis two years ago, I wanted to continue to have a hands-on experience helping with conservation work. Although it took me a while to find an opportunity that aligned with my schedule and my goals, I was trained this summer by the local chapter of the Audubon Society to once again monitor nests—this time for threatened songbirds, Purple Martins, and Eastern Bluebirds. Again, I volunteered my time in 2-3 hour segments weekly during the summer nesting season.
Being able to see nature at work is incredible, and knowing I am a part of protecting endangered species is incomparable.
This is why we began the program in the first place: to connect our employees directly with the work they do here in the office. To illustrate how important conservation is. To prove that each and every one of us can be conservation heroes.
But, as with any new program, ours has had a slow start. I’ve too often heard “I’m too busy” or “I already volunteer for other things that I feel more passionately for.” Of course, this has been disheartening, especially to my optimistic zoo designer heart, but our core program leaders push on. To date, we have organized two office-wide volunteer days—one on a chilly spring Sunday at the World Bird Sanctuary, and a second on a perfect summer Saturday cleaning up one of the major rivers in the St. Louis area, the Meramec. We gained momentum with the river clean-up, nearly doubling the attendance from our first work day. We are planning another two work days in 2015.
But perhaps the greater challenge is the second part of our corporate program, which aims to increase volunteer commitments of our employees on a regular basis and on their own, personal time. We encourage everyone to find something they are passionate about—especially related to conservation or animals—and become a dedicated volunteer. We’re nurturing our employees as they find their own eggs.
Of course, we still hear the “I’m too busy” excuse a lot…But for those of us who have found the time, it’s indescribably rewarding.