The Long Island Aquarium recently surpassed their $25,000 goal for the GoFundMe campaign they launched on March 20 to assist them during the coronavirus pandemic, but the need for help remains. The aquarium is currently closed to the public per the New York State mandate, eliminating approximately 60,000 visitors and incoming revenue during this time of closure. The generous donations from the community will help with the approximately $18,000 per week expenses for animal care.
With a collection of thousands of unique species to feed, the Long Island Aquarium must keep operations going to sustain all the animals in the collection. Their team of skilled and trained animal caretakers are considered essential employees who report to work each day on split shifts to feed, provide medication, ensure life support is maintained and care and clean for all the animals’ habitats. As an aquarium, they have tanks that run on electricity all day and night, with most tanks being chilled and others being heated to meet the species’ needs.
The Long Island Aquarium also continues to help support the New York Marine Rescue Center—formerly known as the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation—which is a hospital located in the aquarium facility. The Rescue Center currently houses 30 endangered sea turtles and 5 seals, all having been brought to the facility for urgent and prolonged care. For 20 years, the Long Island Aquarium has assisted the New York Marine Rescue Center, and 50% of GoFundMe donations received will go to the center for the care of these injured and sick animals.
Long Island Aquarium Executive Director Bryan DeLuca takes us a bit deeper into the daily workings and challenges facing the facility and its staff, and the essential efforts they are making for the well-being of the many creatures who have always brought visitors so much joy since the aquarium opened 20 years ago.
What have been some of the biggest challenges during this time for the staff working with the animals who live at the aquarium?
Our revenue mainly comes from ticket sales, so being closed to the public but still having sizable expenses with animal care, food and medications, etc. Even with the PPP program that we applied for, animal care costs are not covered for the 8 weeks, and we are burning through our reserve cash. Splitting the staff schedules to maintain an “A” team and “B” team for both mammals and fish staff leaves us with a small group of people to be caring for the entire facility on three-day cycles.
Describe the roll the Long Island Aquarium has played with the work of the New York Marine Rescue Center.
The aquarium provides over $100,000 a year for the key staff that tends to the rescued animals, a 4×4 truck for beach rescues, along with rent-free quarantine space for the hospital for all the seals and turtles in-house. Additionally, the aquarium’s life-support staff helps with a majority of repairs to the rescue center’s animal life-support systems.
Tell us about some of the day-to-day work the aquarium staff must undertake that readers may not be aware of.
Daily food preparation for the unique diets of each of the species we care for. Daily recording of animal food intake, medications when/where needed and enrichment activities for the animals, as well as reporting for DEC and USDA. Our animal care teams’ days include their regular daily work, but we have reduced the amount of staff on per day. We broke them into teams to ensure that they stay safe so they can continue to care for our collection of animals.
In addition to the GoFundMe effort, what else can people do to help?
We encourage people that want to help to purchase a membership, which won’t go into effect until the guest’s first visit after we reopen. They can purchase discounted packages we’ve created that include overnight stays at the Hyatt Place Long Island/East End and include Aquarium admission—some packages include additional adventures like a ride on the Atlantis Explorer Tour Boat and kayak rentals—or they purchase one of our new “Talk to the Animals” FaceTime programs that we are implementing, where guests can have a five-minute FaceTime session with an animal caregiver and their animal.