Maryland Proud

A timely refresh to our Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit provides a stunning backdrop to a virtual field trip experience, keeping thousands of students connected to the aquatic world while learning online.

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We are not the first to mention it, but when it comes to stunning natural landscapes, Maryland boasts an embarrassment of riches. From the shimmering beaches of the Atlantic coastline to the splendor of the mighty Chesapeake Bay, westward to the mountainous terrain and cascading mountain streams of Western Maryland, our state has been referred to as “America in miniature” and the name fits.

So, it is no surprise that, within the walls of the National Aquarium, our Level 2 gallery known as Maryland: Mountains to the Sea is a perennial favorite of guests from right here in town as well as from countries around the globe. The four main exhibits of Maryland: Mountains to the Sea take our guests along on the journey that water makes through the water cycle. We begin in an Allegheny stream teeming with fish such as darters and dace swimming along to the deep bass croak of the American bullfrog. We then follow water’s path to the tidal marshes surrounding the Chesapeake Bay where diamondback terrapins—our Maryland state reptile—wade and dive near Maryland’s blue crabs, before finally moving to the Atlantic Ocean’s continental shelf where those crabs might scuttle by, tempting predators like striped bass and drum and sea turtles.

Your support of the National Aquarium powers educational opportunities for more than 100,000 Maryland students annually.

And, this year, on the heels of a slate of thoughtfully integrated improvements, the diversity of animal life and the habitats that support them on exhibit within Maryland: Mountains to the Sea are now nestled amidst a stunning array of new, enhanced interactive panels and informative pylon displays, as well as sensory experiences that beckon guests to linger and learn more about these special places. Updates include illustrations that animate at the touch, habitat lighting designed to mimic natural light, the use of high-tech projection to create ambient experiences and soundscapes composed to transport guests into the habitats they see before them.

Guests returning to the building in July were treated to a refreshed Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit featuring interactive exhibit panels, authentic lighting and soundscapes, and high-tech projection features.

Exhibit Refresh

According to Robin Faitoute, the National Aquarium’s manager of exhibit development, the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea refresh was driven by the Aquarium’s desire to inspire conservation action by transporting guests to the regional aquatic habitats that require their attention to thrive. “One of the ways we seek to inspire conservation action is through pride of place,” Robin explained. “The gallery takes guests on a journey across Maryland to visit some of our state’s many aquatic treasures. Guests gain a new perspective on familiar places and discover special habitats they perhaps didn’t even know existed. Our new interpretation of this space also highlights the many ways the National Aquarium is protecting water as it flows through our home state and invites guests to join us by signing up for a conservation event or taking similar actions within their own communities.”

With most of the in-building work on these enhancements taking place while the National Aquarium was closed in keeping with COVID-19 precautions throughout the spring and early summer 2020, guests returning to the building since our reopening in July have been able to take in the authentic sights, sounds, scents and experiences of Maryland’s diverse and special waterways during their National Aquarium visit. And, as it happens, the timing of the exhibit refresh was fortuitous; with Maryland students mostly learning virtually this fall, our stunning new Maryland: Mountains to the Sea gallery has become the centerpiece of a world even more unknown than the ocean deep: online field trips.

diamonback terrapin in tidal marsh gallery
This diamondback terrapin—Maryland's official state reptile—greets in-person guests and students visiting virtually from the Tidal Marsh gallery in Maryland: Mountains to the Sea.

Virtual Field Trips

The National Aquarium’s education team has pulled off the impressive feat of pivoting to make their library of pre-K through grade 12 field trip experiences available virtually to students and educators all over Maryland and beyond. For the more than 100,000 children in this region who enjoy a National Aquarium field trip experience each year, this shift to online Aquarium educational programming will ensure that there is no interruption in their ability to access the wonders of the aquatic world that the National Aquarium offers.

“When it became clear that social distancing protocols would be with us well into the school year and that accommodating field trip groups would prove impossible, we immediately started working to make some of the animals, habitats and experiences that make an Aquarium field trip so special available online,” said Lauren Fauth, the National Aquarium’s manager of education programs. “We know that students look forward to visiting, but we also wanted to make sure that educators who rely on us to supplement their STEAM curriculum continued to receive our support, even if we have to be less hands-on.”

To that end, schools can now schedule an online Aquarium field trip experience, featuring a pre-recorded video tour of the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea gallery—a popular and frequent complement to Maryland schools’ elementary science curriculum—followed by a live, interactive virtual session with National Aquarium educators. For Maryland schools accustomed to enjoying complimentary Maryland State Department of Education-sponsored Aquarium field trip experiences, these online programs continue to be offered at no charge; other schools may schedule virtual field trips for a small fee. In addition, seven other educational programs customized to students in grades pre-K through 12 are also available online and can be scheduled along with the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea virtual experience. Plus, the first 2,000 students registered from Baltimore City and Title 1 schools may also enjoy our Shark! virtual experience or the upcoming Squid Dissection Lab virtual experiences for free.

Education Specialist Andrew Walker takes students on a journey through our state's aquatic habitats in our Maryland: Mountains to the Sea virtual field trip experience.

This spring, our menu of virtual programming will expand to include the virtual Squid Dissection Lab for older students in grade 6 through 12 and other programs.

Educators will also be glad to find that the curriculum booklets with activities that support the National Aquarium’s full range of aquatic educational programming are available to download for free on our website.

According to both Lauren and Robin, the National Aquarium’s mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures is central to the efforts applied to transitioning our educational programming and enhancing the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea guest experience. They both reiterated that people—Marylanders, in particular—will work to sustain and conserve local habitats to which they feel connected.

“One of the new projections on a wall within the gallery reads: ‘Healthy water depends on you’,” said Robin. “We want our guests to understand the role they play in keeping our local waterways healthy because it is a responsibility that all of us can share.” Lauren agrees, stressing the importance of this sentiment for our youngest guests. “For kids, conservation has to be part of their education, and we should begin as young as possible,” she notes, “because the next generation will always be our best bet for a healthy future.”

Thank You France-Merrick Foundation

The beautiful, interactive Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit refresh that has proven so critical to the National Aquarium’s 2020 virtual education programming was made possible with the generous support of the France-Merrick Foundation, which shares in the National Aquarium’s commitment to inspiring the next generation of active, engaged Baltimore conservationists.

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