The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever,” Jacques Cousteau once wrote. Aquatic life has long fascinated mankind, offering a sense of wonder and awe, but like so much of the natural world, it is something we must learn to understand in order to protect it. While the StL may be landlocked, the St. Louis Aquarium is dedicated to taking visitors on a journey from fresh water rivers to the dark depths of the ocean. Its nonprofit component, the St. Louis Aquarium Foundation, engages the community by providing educational programs and serving as the region’s voice for water stewardship.
“I like to describe the aquarium as a mission-based business; it’s a for-profit organization to ensure we can keep the lights on and feed the animals,” foundation executive director Tamera Brown explains. “The foundation’s primary goal is to provide access to those who may find the cost of tickets prohibitive, and we also work on conservation projects like river cleanups.” While guests are wowed and inspired by the animals who call the aquarium home, the foundation wants to ensure they also understand the importance of water stewardship. “We hope that by learning more about aquatic animal species, people are inspired to protect the environment,” Brown says. “It not only helps the animals who call those habitats home, but everything living on earth.”
One of the St Louis Aquarium Foundation’s most important programs is Help to Our Friends, or H2O Friends. The initiative aims to make the aquarium more accessible by providing free admission to Title One schools and other community partner organizations that provide support for underserved families. “We opened at the end of 2019, so it wasn’t long before the pandemic hit and we lost our primary audience of schools,” Brown notes. “We had already established the fund for H2O Friends, so we began working with organizations like the Easterseals and Boys Hope Girls Hope to bring families to the aquarium. Now with schools ready to visit as well, there is even more demand on the program as we continue working with community partners.”
Last year, the foundation held its first major fundraising event, the Making Waves Gala. “We had Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, give a presentation,” Brown says. “It was very inspiring to be able to hear him speak.” The nonprofit will host its second gala Nov. 11. The event’s chairs are Melissa and Robert Merlin, along with Steve and Bob O’Loughlin who are being recognized as honorary chairs. Rather than focusing on a presentation, guests will have the chance to move around the aquarium and socialize—both with each other and some of the aquarium’s ambassador animals.
The money raised by the Making Waves Gala will go toward the H2O Friends program, ensuring the aquarium can be accessed by more children and families. “As our only annual fundraising event, the gala is extremely important,” Brown notes. “It plays a critical role in ensuring both schools and our partner organizations can enjoy and learn through the aquarium.
The St. Louis Aquarium Foundation is dedicated to providing access to the St. Louis Aquarium and educational resources, while serving as the region’s voice for water stewardship. It’s Making Waves Gala is Nov. 11. Pictured on the cover: Steve O’Loughlin and Linda Hunter. For more information, call 314.923.3926 or visit stlaquariumfoundation.org.
Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography
Pictured at top: Participants enjoy the St. Louis Aquarium Foundation’s Fins & Friends summer camp.
Photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography