With coral reefs worldwide threatened and disappearing, international collaboration is imperative for conservation efforts to succeed. Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, along with its sister aquarium, Taiwan's National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium, have been awarded a highly competitive 2012 Museums Connect grant to connect youth in both countries to the challenge of saving these crucial marine ecosystems.
The international cultural exchange program, awarded by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the U.S. Department of State, will connect 30 middle school students from San Diego and Pingtung, Taiwan, with coral scientists, community stakeholders and aquarium staff in both cities. The goal of the program, named Coral Reef Ambassadors, is to inspire interest in coral reef science among participants and develop cross-cultural research and conservation skills. Only 10 Museums Connect projects are awarded nationwide each year.
With $65,000 in grant support, each site will set up a live coral reef tank that represents reef ecosystems found in each other's country. Beginning this fall, aquarists from each institution will work with teachers and scientists at Scripps Oceanography and Taiwan's National Museum of Marine Biology to bring the most current coral reef science and hands-on learning to local students. In addition, the public will be able to view a camera feed of wild coral off the coast of Taiwan, streamed live through Birch Aquarium's website, aquarium.ucsd.edu.
"We are excited to launch this unique international effort," Birch Aquarium at Scripps Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth said. "Scripps Oceanography scientists are at the forefront of coral reef research and we look forward to working with Taiwan scientists and students on this critical issue."
Museums Connect pairs U.S. museums with facilities from 13 countries to encourage participants —- particularly youth —- to open a dialogue through community projects, partnerships and local events. The program builds upon U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's vision of "smart power," which embraces a range of diplomatic tools —- in this case art, history, cultural preservation and science exchanges —- to tackle international challenges.
"AAM is proud to partner with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on this vital program, and are equally proud that these two esteemed institutions are a part of it," said AAM president Ford W. Bell. "Museums, like all aspects of society today, are becoming more international in their focus, while also retaining their mission of service to their local community. Museums Connect builds global communities, spanning time zones, continents and cultures."
The Birch Aquarium-Taiwan partnership is joined by projects featuring three other California museums, including collaborations between the Sonoma County Museum and Gyeonggi-Do Museum of Modern Art in South Korea; the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland and the Hong Kong Space Museum; and San Francisco's International Museum of Women with The Women's Museum of Denmark, The Ayala Museum in Manila, Philippines, and the Museum of Islamic Civilization in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
For more information about the 2012 Museums Connect grants, visit http://www.aam-us.org/mcca/2012projects.cfm
About Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium features more than 60 habitats of fish and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and the Caribbean. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, earth and ocean science. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium has an annual attendance of more than 435,000, including 40,000 school children.