Posts Tagged With: Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park

 
 

Former Dallas Zoo camper turns passion for marine life into ‘ReefLove’

Mary Katherine Futrell shows what a healthy coral reef looks like (left jar) opposed to coral bleaching (right jar).

We feel like we’ve won Olympic gold when we learn about kids who grew up going to the Dallas Zoo and turned their passion for animals and nature into conservation projects and careers. Bishop Lynch High School sophomore Mary Katherine Futrell is doing just that.

When Mary Katherine was six years old as a camper in Dallas Zoo’s summer camp, she met Mango, an African penguin she still remembers today. Interacting with Mango helped shape what kind of work she wanted to do as she got older. Now, she’s teaching our community to protect marine life.

“All of the animal encounters we got to do during camp were just so crazy awesome,” said Futrell. “We got to see what’s in the wild and what we need to help protect. The staff was so passionate and engaging. We got to do so much hands-on stuff that I was like, ‘Wow, I really want to work with animals when I grow up.’”

When our famous Texas heat rolls in, most people will put on sunscreen before heading out to enjoy the sun. But did you know you could actually help the environment by avoiding sunscreens that contain certain chemicals? We recently invited Mary Katherine out to our affiliated Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park to teach guests about her ReefLove project, something she created for her Girl Scout Gold Award. ReefLove is an initiative that spreads awareness about coral bleaching. One way coral bleaching happens is when sunscreen chemicals wash off of people, land on coral reefs, and kills them.

“It’s a huge problem, but we can actively do something about sunscreen coral bleaching,” said Futrell. “The fact that you can cover yourself up with special sun-protective clothing, or use reef-safe sunscreens and help protect coral reefs is amazing. We can easily make a difference.”

Her website, reeflove.org, shares more about the solutions to coral bleaching, and about how we can protect the reefs at the same time we protect ourselves.

Zoo Education Supervisor Tonya McDaniel said she’s proud of seeing a former Zoo camper grow up and make a platform to help protect species. Tonya believes any camp member can become inspired and help evoke change.

“From our Zoo Corps teens initiating a cell phone recycling program to save gorillas, families recording frog sightings and calls for citizen science projects, to an educational activity like what Mary Katherine developed, the possibilities are endless to inspire change with everyone we interact with in education,” said McDaniel.

To meet Futrell, hear more of her story and learn about ReefLove, come out to our Safari Nights concert series this spring and summer. She’ll be there to present her project and answer your questions. Check out DallasZoo.com for more information about the 2018 Safari Nights concert series coming soon.

 

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Children’s Aquarium was catalyst for renowned oceanographer, UTA professor

Dr. Johnson poses for a Fox and Friends video at the Children's Aquarium at Fair Park.

Dr. Johnson poses for a Fox and Friends video at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park.

As a child, young Ashanti Johnson fell in love with marine science, sparked by hours of watching the famed Jacques Cousteau exploring the deep blue world.

Yet as a high school senior in landlocked North Texas, the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park gave her the first taste of what would become a remarkable and inspiring career.

Today, Dr. Johnson is an associate professor of environmental sciences and assistant vice provost for faculty recruitment at the University of Texas of Arlington. But in the summer of 1988, she was a teenager with a passion for the science of the ocean.

A meeting with the director of the Dallas Zoo gave her an opportunity be a youth volunteer.

“He wanted me to work with snakes, and I don’t do snakes,” she recalls.

The Children’s Aquarium was much more to her liking.

“[My family] would spend a lot of time walking through the different museums on the weekend,” she said. “Going to Fair Park was the closest they could get me to marine science.”

Johnson volunteered at the Children’s Aquarium during her senior year in 1988-89. Her work was definitely “not glamorous,” she says: cleaning glass, cutting fish, sweeping and mopping. But her passion never waned.

“Growing up, we were supposed to be productive as we pursued our interests and give back,” she says about the importance of volunteering.

Johnson went on to become the first African-American to receive a marine science degree at Texas A&M University at Galveston. She then earned a Ph.D. in oceanography from Texas A&M.

She’s worked all across the globe as one of the first female African-American chemical oceanographers, inspiring hundreds through her Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science initiative.

Her passion for mentorship was rewarded with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2009.

“One of my biggest pleasures is helping other people achieve their dreams,” Johnson says.

Visiting the Children’s Aquarium, the Zoo and museums as a child was critical to her successful career, she believes. Those successes were recently spotlighted by Fox and Friends for Black History Month.

“Life experiences help children imagine and dream,” she said. “It’s much more impactful than being in front of a computer.”

(Imagine what volunteering could do for your child – or for you! More than 1,000 people volunteer each year at the Dallas Zoo and the Children’s Aquarium. Visit dallaszoo.com for details on how to join us.)

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