Our gem of an aquarium
Marylou Foley has made a splashing career change.She left the glamour of the hotel industry and dove into the academic and scientific world of marine biology.
Is she all wet?
Not at all.
As the Waikiki Aquarium’s new director of community outreach, Foley is ardently raising awareness of Hawaii’s oceanic resources and promoting a prime, but often overlooked, visitor attraction.
This is not an aquatic theme park with Shamu the Killer Whale performing three shows a day. The aquarium is a 104-year-old treasure that anchors what Foley calls “the mellow end of Waikiki.” There along tree-lined Kalakaua Avenue across from Kapiolani Park is the third oldest public aquarium in the United States.Part of the University of Hawaii since 1919, it is located next to a living reef on the Waikiki shoreline.
It is a gem.
And it is now Foley’s business address, where she supports the aquarium’s mission of education, research and conservation.
She wants to get more people, both residents and tourists,through the doors to discover the wonders of Hawaii’s marine life.The Waikiki Aquarium is home to more than 3,300 organisms that represent more than 500 species of aquatic animals and plants.
More than 350,000 visitors and 30,000 schoolchildren pass through the turnstiles each year. But there is potential to increase that number, particularly since the aquarium gets a disproportionate number of local residents compared to the Honolulu Zoo.
Foley ponders that inconsistency and hopes her outreach to local community groups and schools will affect the numbers. Admission matters; it’s a major source of revenue for the aquarium.
Foley also thinks the Waikiki Aquarium can provide public access for an agency such as the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“There’s important information that’s not being shared with the public,“she says.“There are threats to the ocean environment that need to be explained.”
While at Outrigger Hotels, Foley was instrumental in setting up a groundbreaking agreement with NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program to expand general public awareness about the state’s fragile marine environment. It was the first partnership of its kind between NOAA and a hotel company.
Innovative thinking is just another day of work for someone of Foley’s credentials.
The Punahou and University of Washington graduate brings years of visitor industry,government and cultural affairs experience to incorporate into the aquarium’s strategic directions.
She was executive director of Aloha Festivals for seven years; had her own marketing consulting firm; administered promotion of ocean resources, film industry, and made-in-Hawaii products for the state Department of Business & Economic Development; and for the past eight years, directed public relations for Outrigger’s beach-front hotels.
In a sense, she’s come full circle. As an education major, she returns to the classroom of the earth to teach us about the life-sustaining ocean around us and why we must care for this precious resource.
Man’s interaction with the ocean can threaten and disrupt the life cycle of Hawaii’s wide variety of aquatic animals.A little knowledge will go a long way, she says.
Nowhere on earth are there more different kinds of marine organisms than in the seas of the South Pacific.An avid traveler,Foley has explored the vast and ancient reef ecosystems of the Pacific, crowded with 500 species of reef-building corals, inshore fish and many invertebrates and plants.
The aquarium’s unique exhibits include Hawaiian monk seals, living corals, chambered nautilus and other fascinating, rarely seen creatures. More than 3,300 organisms are on exhibit.
It is a fascinating journey to the ocean depths for an up-close look at the denizens of the deep.And you don’t have to get wet or know how to swim to be enlightened.
The aquarium’s largest exhibit houses a distinctly Hawaiian mammal, the Hawaiian monk seal. With fewer than 1,400 individual animals remaining in the wild, Hawaiian monk seals are one of the most threatened marine mammals in the world. Current research at the aquarium focuses on the physiology and thermoregulation of two resident monk seals.
According to Foley, Waikiki Aquarium has received several awards for research and conservation efforts.In 2006,the aquarium’s pioneering research was showcased in a nationally televised special, Window to the Sea, which went behind the scenes at four leading aquariums to review the science, natural history and complex beauty of the undersea world.
Earlier this year, the Hawaii Tourism Authority awarded the aquarium a Keep It Hawaii citation for its commitment to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture.
It is this bridge between the native environment and cultural values that intrigues Foley and where she sees the Waikiki Aquarium in a new light. The inextricable harmony of land and sea was something our ancestors understood so well, she proclaims.
And her employer,the University of Hawaii, envisions this same connection through its mountain-tothe-sea attractions.
In the mode of Hawaii’s ahupua`a land division system, there’s UH’s Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Manoa where visitors can see Hawaii’s indigenous plants. Moving down to the Waikiki shoreline, there is UH’s Waikiki Aquarium, where research and community education focus on Hawaii’s marine life.
It’s a new venture for Foley, who admits she’s still going through a learning curve on the new job. But she’s at a place where she wants to be - near the sea.
For someone keen on snorkeling and kayaking, this is home and a place where she can advocate her affinity for the Hawaiian culture and sustainability.
Within those passions, Foley has found her true identity.
Visit the Waikiki Aquarium at 2777 Kalakaua Ave., open daily (except Christmas) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Special rate for residents and senior citizens. Call 923-9741 or log on to www.waquarium.org.
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