Since the day it first opened in 1981, the Aquarium has been lucky to have a dedicated staff of volunteers who give of their time and talents to support our mission to inspire conservation of the world's aquatic treasures.
They do everything from assisting guests and caring for animals to supporting the Aquarium's outreach work, and they range in age from recent high school grads to retirees.
Three volunteers—Robin Korotki, Susan Magri and Barbara Weaver—have been at it longer than anyone else. They each started volunteering in 1981, the year the Aquarium opened. As of December 31, 2021, they have each given more than 4,000 hours of their time, and the three of them together have spent a combined 12,579 hours volunteering at the Aquarium.
National Aquarium volunteer Robin Korotki has always loved being underwater. When her family vacationed in Florida when she was a child, she was the only one who returned home without a tan because she spent all her time out of the sun, in the water swimming and snorkeling. She loved watching Jacques Cousteau on television, and she used her very first paycheck to pay for her scuba diving certification.
Her enthusiasm for diving has never waned. Today, she volunteers one day a week as a diver in the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit.
"Underwater is my happy place," she says, "and I love everything the Aquarium stands for. Diving in the Aquarium is the best diving in Maryland. You can see, and it's not freezing! I get to keep my skills fresh, and my comfort level underwater is high because I dive constantly. I never feel out of touch or rusty."
Robin, like most volunteer divers, started out doing something else as a volunteer at the Aquarium. She was an exhibit guide, a position she remembers training for at a church on North Charles Street in the weeks leading up to the Aquarium's opening.
A few of the major changes she's seen over the years include the fact that diving used to only happen in the early morning before the Aquarium opened to guests or after it closed. Now, guests can frequently see volunteer divers in the exhibits doing their work—which primarily consists of cleaning the habitats and feeding the animals.
"The first time we dove when the public was there, all the people were staring at us," Robin recalls. "We were the second most popular thing to see, after the dolphins!"
She also remembers when the dive team didn't wear wetsuits, and when the water in Atlantic Coral Reef was kept at a warmer temperature than it is now.
Because she works full-time and lives far from Baltimore City in Carroll County, Robin currently only dives on Saturdays.
"The drive is a solid hour each way, but I've never not wanted to be here. When I'm here, I'm not a mom, I'm not a wife, I'm not working a high-stress job; it's like a vacation day."
Robin says one of her favorite Aquarium animals is the porcupinefish, and her all-time favorite was Calypso the green sea turtle.
For Susan Magri, volunteering as an exhibit guide at the National Aquarium is a way for her to share her background in science and love of biology with Aquarium guests. She holds a biology degree and taught science at the now-closed Seton Keough High School for 30 years before she retired.
"Being able to talk to people about plants, animals and ecosystems is right up my alley," she says.
When she looks back on the day the Aquarium opened on August 8, 1981, she says two things stand out in her memory. "Part of our uniform was a scarf with a blue and white wave design on it. I'm not a scarf person, so I really struggled to get that thing on," she laughs. "And it was really, really crowded; I was surprised by how many people were there."
In her more than 40 years as a volunteer, Susan has crossed paths with countless Aquarium guests, but one encounter that stands out in her mind happened one day when she was stationed in the Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit. "Some guests who came through were very interested in all the plants and wanted to know more about them. It ended up being a genetics lesson!"
She adds, "Everyone who volunteers brings their own gifts."
While Susan remembers the excitement of seeing new exhibits like Dolphin Discovery and Australia: Wild Extremes open, she says that her experience as an Aquarium volunteer has remained remarkably consistent.
"The approach of the volunteer office has really stayed the same. Despite changes in personnel over the years, they've always treated us respectfully and made sure that we have an excellent experience."
When asked what her favorite Aquarium exhibit or animal is, Susan says she can't choose. "Wherever I am at the moment, whatever I'm looking at—that's my favorite. Really, it's the conversations with guests that are my favorite thing about the time I spend at the Aquarium."
She adds, "The National Aquarium's mission is so important. I would like to think that the information volunteers give improves our guests' experiences and their perception of the natural world so they're more invested in conserving it."
Barbara Weaver doesn't remember her first day on the job as an Aquarium volunteer, but she remembers well a day leading up to it.
"To complete my requirements to become an exhibit guide, I had to give a presentation at an exhibit and be evaluated on it," she recalls. "Construction of the Aquarium was running late so the exhibits were only partially in place. The exhibit I had to present was a touchpool, but it was dry and empty! I gathered some props I had from beachcombing—a whelk shell and egg case, a large clam shell and a sea star. To replicate a sea cucumber, I used the bladder from my son's football decorated with paper frills. I was nervous, but the props helped me share what I knew about these fascinating animals—and I've never stopped."
Barbara calls volunteering at the Aquarium the one constant of her life. "I've been doing this longer than any job—and longer than any marriage."
She was already an active volunteer when she heard about the positions available at the Aquarium.
"I was volunteering with the PTA and community associations and getting bored talking about dogs and fences and trash," she said. "The plans for the Aquarium sounded so incredible, and I've always loved exploring tidepools and collecting shells. I was one of about 2,000 people who came out for the initial interviews. Everything was handled so professionally. They respected our time and offered us education. We really felt valued—and that has not changed."
Barbara likes to check out other aquariums when she goes on vacation; she's been to Atlanta, New England, Monterey and many others.
"Personally, I've never seen anything that equals the National Aquarium. We're the best."
When asked why she's stayed for 40-plus years, she ticks through a list of reasons.
"I've stayed for the pure enjoyment of the incredible exhibits and the creative way conservation is spotlighted and for the delight of the animals. I've stayed for the continuing education. I've stayed for the pleasure of talking with guests; the opportunity to share the enthusiasm I feel for the natural world is exciting. And I've stayed for the camaraderie and friendships I've developed with fellow volunteers and staff."