New England Aquarium is poised to become a regional leader in the effort to educate about the impact of rising oceans and the need to stop using them as the world’s dumping ground.

With a new CEO, Vikki Spruill, onboard, this Boston Harbor institution had to deal firsthand with rising seas last year when a winter storm, abnormal high tides and powerful storm surge flooded the area around the aquarium, cutting off streets and sidewalks and forcing a shutdown for four days. 

But even before that graphic example of the Boston waterfront’s vulnerability to sea level rise, the aquarium had already picked up the torch of environmental education. The aquarium’s exhibits and website, for example, alert visitors about endangered ocean species, including North Atlantic right whales, several species of sea turtles and such exotic critters as the Asian arowana and Banggai cardinalfish.

Under the aquarium’s logo – a fish outlined against a striped blue background and the slogan “Protecting the Blue Planet” – the aquarium’s website offers “Blue Planet Bingo” for younger visitors, with a game card and 25 spaces, each listing small things individuals can do to protect the environment. From “ride a bike, walk, or take public transportation,” to a recommendation to carry reusable utensils instead of using throwaway plastic ones, to composting at home and shopping with reusable bags, the bingo game is aimed at teaching. 

Although the nonprofit is restricted in how much it can lobby on legislation, New England Aquarium has advocated for increased protection of endangered right whales and spoken out against Trump administration efforts to open up the Atlantic coast to undersea oil and gas exploration. The aquarium has also taken a stand in favor of a Massachusetts ban on single-use plastic bags and offers its experts to speak to lawmakers about whales, sharks and the overall risks to the marine environment.

It only makes sense that the focus and location of the aquarium should put it in the forefront of environmental education. In a recent Boston Globe profile, Spruill didn’t hedge about where she believes the institution’s focus should be. Climate change, she said, is the “defining issue of our time,” and the aquarium aims to do its part to educate and energize visitors about that.

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