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Volunteer Spotlight

Published Oct. 1, 2005


LOCATION: 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. 273-4020.

A BRIEF HISTORY: The Florida Aquarium opened in March 1995. It is owned by the city of Tampa and governed by a board of directors composed of business, education and community leaders from the Tampa Bay area. It is a private, non-profit corporation that has been struggling in recent months to make ends meet and has turned to the city for taxpayer assistance.

WHAT THE AGENCY DOES: The Florida Aquarium tells Florida's water story as it follows a drop of water from its underground source to the open sea. Exhibits feature thousands of native plants and animals bringing the state's outdoors inside. A video introduces the story, highlights amenities and teaches visitors animal-collecting techniques. The reef deck tours offer a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes, and scuba divers and other educators lead interactive programs several times a day. The newest exhibit is Explore A Shore, an attraction that includes a live pool with saltwater creatures, and several opportunities for children to splash, climb, crawl and dig in the exhibit. The newest arrival is a 250-pound Green Sea turtle. The galleries include Florida wetlands, bays and beaches, coral reefs and offshore.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: John C. Racanelli, 42, has been president and chief executive officer for four years, since before the facility opened. He studied marine science at the University of California at San Diego. Prior to coming to the Florida Aquarium, he worked at Marine World at San Francisco Bay and opened and helped staff the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

WHERE THE MONEY GOES: Revenue comes from the following sources: admissions, 42 percent; gift, book store and restaurants, 29 percent; contributions and grants, 20 percent, and memberships, 9 percent. The money is used for program services including education, exhibit path, husbandry, life support and research, 75 percent; management and general funds, including marketing, public relations, accounting and administration, 20 percent, and fund raising, 5 percent.

WHAT THE VOLUNTEERS DO: There are positions available for volunteers, including administrative, dive, event, gallery, husbandry and project volunteers. Administrative volunteers assist "behind the scenes" with general office work, mailings, phone calls, filing, data entry and typing. Dive volunteers help clean large exhibit windows and assist in the underwater maintenance of the exhibits. Event volunteers are trained to work on the exhibit path as hosts to interpret the natural history of Florida at interactive stations during after-hours special events. These volunteers also work in the aquarium's speaker's bureau. Gallery volunteers work on the exhibit path as hosts, answer visitors' questions and interpret natural history at interactive stations. Some work in the gift shop or as greeters. The husbandry volunteers assist biologists in the care and maintenance of the living collection, preparing animal diets, cleaning animal areas, watering plants and learning the duties of the paid staff. All volunteers are required to complete an orientation and fulfill specific requirements in the area where they will devote their time.

ONE VOLUNTEER: Conrad Zotz, 40, is a truck driver who volunteers once a week as a shift captain in charge of placing other volunteers on the floor. He works with the paid staff, checks on volunteers, gives them breaks and interacts with the visitors. "This place represents all that is beautiful about the Florida environment," Zotz said. "I work to spread that message."