John Racanelli is Chief
Executive Officer of the
National Aquarium where he
leads a team conserving the
world’s aquatic treasures.
Ifirst saw the Chesapeake Bay in July of 1976, as the young navigator of a restored
tall ship, arriving here after a six-month cruise
to participate in the nation’s bicentennial.
We sailed the Bay’s length twice, visiting
Baltimore, Norfolk, and Washington.
Interestingly, my time here coincided with
what was arguably the Bay’s lowest ebb in
terms of its health: the 70s saw the discovery
of the nation’s first hypoxic dead zone,
numerous fishery crashes, and the dawning
realization that raw sewage was killing the
Bay. Little coincidence, then, that 1976 was
also the year that CBF spurred the first-ever
EPA Chesapeake Bay Study, setting the course
for restoration work that continues today.
Fast forward 35 years: Moving to Baltimore
to lead the National Aquarium, I found a
Chesapeake Bay that was both improved
and greatly changed from that long-ago visit.
Soon after arriving, I had the good fortune to
meet with CBF’s dynamic President, Will
Baker. When I told him I thought the
Aquarium needed to be more involved in
conservation and restoration of the Bay and
Inner Harbor, he answered simply, “Well,
we’ve been waiting.” Due in great measure
to that conversation, I set about refocusing
the Aquarium’s conservation program
towards just such an end.
One of my first steps was to bring aboard Eric
Schwaab as our first-ever Chief Conservation
Officer. A former National Oceanic Atmospheric
Administration executive and Assistant
Director of Maryland’s Department of Natural
Resources, Eric brought long experience in
Bay ecology and restoration. Together, we
developed a conservation strategy with four pillars: Take Care of Our Backyard, Reach a Broader
Audience, Complete the Conservation Story, and
Inspire Ocean Innovations. I’ll elaborate on each.
Take Care of Our Backyard
Located right on the Inner Harbor, it’s our
duty to do our part to improve the health of
the entire Bay watershed. To date, our field
conservation team has engaged more than
13,000 volunteers in hands-on habitat
restoration, restoring or creating almost
200 acres of tidal habitats, while planting
1.7 million native plants and trees in the
watershed. But, there’s much more to do,
and working with partners like CBF makes
our collective voices stronger, our messages
clearer, and our work more effective.
Reach a Broader Audience
Being the National Aquarium gives us
unique leverage to carry our messages further afield. As the National Wildlife
Federation’s Maryland affiliate, we reach a
million members with a compelling vision
for the nation’s most important watershed.
Our long presence in the capital (the original National Aquarium opened there in
1931) gives us unprecedented access to
decision makers at the federal level. And
our digital resources are now reaching
almost 12 million people per year.
Complete the Conservation Story
we are able to tell compelling stories that
inspire guests to take personal action on
behalf of the world’s aquatic treasures—
again, starting with the Chesapeake Bay.
But there is much more to tell.
Inspire Ocean Innovations
At the Aquarium, we’re using new technologies and longstanding expertise to
address critical conservation issues like
seafood sustainability, ocean acidification,
urban aquaculture, and fisheries management. The world’s water and the living
things that rely on it need a voice unafraid
to share new and innovative ideas.
During my years living on the San
Francisco Bay, I often advocated that what
we needed was an organization like CBF to
take the lead to save that imperiled estuary.
It is one of my great joys to be here, now,
contributing to a better future for this
remarkable Chesapeake Bay. In some way, it
feels like coming home.
By John Racanelli
Partners for the
The National Aquarium has a conservation strategy that includes restoring tidal habitats,
using things like this floating wetland.