Prolonging the Magic of Your Aquarium Visit with NEEF and the Aquarium Conservation Partnership
September 03, 2019
Amy Skalmusky

There are few things more exciting than seeing frolicking dolphins up close or touching the sandpaper skin of a nurse shark. The National Environmental Educations Foundation's (NEEF) collaboration with the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) aimed to extend this feeling into action to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean and waterways.

Debuting on November 1, 2018 in 22 aquariums across the United States, the "First Step" campaign included a seven day text-to-action challenge that used vivid imagery and useful tips to help people to reduce their use of single-use plastic.

"The idea is to capture aquarium visitors in an awe-inspiring moment," said Nick Bradford, senior research officer at NEEF. Bradford and the NEEF team worked with ACP to develop a best practices guide on how to engage visitors with the campaign as well as provided consultation and recommendations on the most effective imagery and messaging.

Through a "learning by doing" engagement model, NEEF harnesses memorable experiences to motivate individual commitments to positive action for the environment. "Visitors feel motivated to make a commitment to helping," said Bradford.

Participants in the "7-day plastic-free challenge" will received a series of text messages over a seven day period prompting them to take accessible, low-barrier, actions to reduce their day-to-day use of single-use plastic.

"NEEF's experience with engagement campaigns has helped ACP extend visitor participation beyond the time spent in the aquarium," said Kim McIntyre, director at Aquarium Conservation Partnership.

The campaign ran until April 2019, with NEEF tracking reach and engagement metrics of the text-to-action challenge for the participating aquariums over the course of the campaign.  During the campaign, 6,240 people took part in the First Step campaign’s 7-day plastic-free challenge. 78% of them pledged to reduce their use of single-use plastic.

NEEF has successfully used its engagement campaign approach with other partners, including the 2017 pilot project with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD, and the NBA Green Energy All Star campaign with the National Basketball Association (NBA).

According to Bradford, this type of campaign can be effective for many types of organizations. "The seven day text-to-action challenge is a great example of how trusted institutions, like aquariums, can use mobile technology to help their visitors learn more about their relationship to the environment and take positive actions that fit into their lives," he said.