National Aquarium Releases 2023 Impact Report and Reimagined Mission

Annual programmatic wrap-up highlights a year of robust environmental conservation and community-based wins

In recognition of Earth Day, the National Aquarium is proud to unveil its 2023 Impact Report, highlighting a year of remarkable achievements in environmental stewardship, animal welfare, conservation education and community engagement.

"The accomplishments highlighted in our 2023 Impact Report tell the story of an organization committed to making a difference for our planet, our community and the remarkable animals with whom we share both," said Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli. "In the coming year, we will embrace our updated mission to connect people with nature to inspire compassion and care for our ocean planet through conservation action, education and a deepened connection to our community."

Highlights of the 2023 National Aquarium Impact Report Include:

Restoring Vital Habitats for Wildlife and People

This year, the National Aquarium spearheaded an array of local and regional conservation efforts, from limiting single-use plastics to planting thousands of trees to combating climate change. To help clear Maryland's waterways and wetlands of plastic debris, the Aquarium hosted several shoreline and community cleanups. In addition to restoring wetland habitats at Masonville Cove and the Fort McHenry wetland, the Aquarium hosted a cleanup in Ocean City, Maryland, with Animal Rescue partners for the first time. In total, volunteers removed 68,866 pieces of plastic debris from waterways. Over 96% of all debris collected was plastic. Bottle caps, drink bottles and food wrappers accounted for 25% of the trash collected.

Caring for Animals

This year, the Aquarium's rescue and rehabilitation efforts demonstrated its dedication to animal welfare. In 2023, the Aquarium admitted and cared for 79 rescued animals and returned 35 to the ocean.

Additionally, the National Aquarium was pivotal in advocating for legislation supporting endangered sea turtles and establishing guidelines for marine mammal sanctuaries. The Aquarium also expanded to Maryland's Eastern Shore, opening the National Aquarium Stranding Response Center in Ocean City in November. Named in honor of longtime volunteers Chuck and Ellen Erbe, the center ensures faster response times for animal rescues and provides critical triage and treatment space.

Honoring The Community

The National Aquarium ensures a visit is accessible to all community members. Nearly 100,000 of the Aquarium's 1.2 million annual guests visited for free or at a reduced price through community access programs—a 25% increase over 2022. These programs include Half-Price Friday Night, presented by M&T Bank; Community Connections supported by corporate partners; Downtown Discovery Days in cooperation with the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Maryland Mornings; School Shell-ebration, presented by Pepsi; and more.

To educate Baltimore residents about the importance of biodiversity, the National Aquarium again served as the Baltimore metropolitan area's regional coordinator for the City Nature Challenge. The Aquarium hosted a public BioBlitz event where nearby community members, Patterson Park Audubon Center staff and Aquarium youth exhibit guides documented over 500 observations. During the four-day challenge, 550 community scientists recorded 7,785 observations of 1,305 wildlife species.

Creating A New Healthy Ecosystem and Floating Wetland

November marked the official start of construction on the Aquarium's newest exhibit. More than a decade in the making, the National Aquarium Harbor Wetland, presented by CFG Bank, will be a free outdoor experience between Piers 3 and 4 in the Inner Harbor. When it opens in Summer 2024, guests can immerse themselves in a re-created salt marsh habitat like those in Baltimore City hundreds of years ago.

The creation of Harbor Wetland is a testament to the National Aquarium's long-standing conservation work. The Aquarium has championed various efforts to protect, enhance and restore natural resources through education, engagement, animal rescue, habitat restoration and more. Harbor Wetland isn't just a display—it's a living example of conservation in action. This exhibit will provide a habitat for local plants and wildlife while educating visitors and students about the importance of wetland ecosystems.

2024 and Beyond

In 2023, the National Aquarium embarked on a strategic planning process focused on the next five years. The process was designed to refine the desired mission of the organization and develop a clear and focused path forward to reach its ambitious goals and objectives. The unveiling of the Aquarium's 2023 Impact Report coincides with the introduction of its reimagined mission for 2024 and beyond: to connect people with nature to inspire compassion and care for our ocean planet. The mission is delivered by creating memorable experiences that spark connection, curiosity, and empathy for the natural world and each other, providing exceptional animal care and welfare, creating world-class experiences, and sharing hopeful stories that educate and inspire. Recognizing the interconnectedness of all beings, the Aquarium pledges to continue leading conservation efforts to combat climate change, protect wildlife and habitats, and stop plastic pollution.

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