Seattle Aquarium exhibits Life on the Edge. Tidepools

Waterfront Champions: Mike Smith, Seattle Aquarium

Mike Smith, School Outreach Coordinator for the Seattle Aquarium. Photo by Adam Lu.

Mike Smith, School Outreach Coordinator for the Seattle Aquarium. Photo by Adam Lu.

“Working with Friends of Waterfront Seattle, we were making a space where people could come for free. That really helped me accomplish that personal goal of making the aquarium more accessible to people.”


Mike Smith, Seattle Aquarium School Outreach Coordinator, on partnership and tearing down barriers to education

In comparison to the waterfront’s stunning harbor view, a cup of slightly green water from Puget Sound doesn’t look like much at first glance. But put a drop of that water on a slide under a microscope, and a hidden world is revealed. At the “plankton station” sponsored by Friends of  Waterfront Seattle in partnership with Seattle Aquarium on Pier 62 last summer, plankton from Puget Sound were magnified by a digital microscope and displayed on a big screen TV, showing there’s much more to the marine environment than initially meets the eye.

It’s the sort of event that Mike Smith, School Outreach Coordinator at Seattle Aquarium, coordinates to fulfill the aquarium’s mission to inspire conservation of our marine environment. To do that, the aquarium works to educate and inspire. Showing the public everything from plankton to otters encourages people to form empathetic bonds with the animal residents of Puget Sound, said Smith. “Then, when we start talking about the conservation side of it, it’s not coming out of nowhere, it’s not preachy. You’ve formed connections with these animals.”

Smith said working with Friends of Waterfront Seattle on Pier 62 during the summer was “a gold standard in partnerships as far as I’m concerned. As an outreach education professional, I’m used to going into spaces and having to figure out setup and resources on the fly. But with Friends of  Waterfront Seattle staff out on the pier doing that, my team and I were able to really focus on what we’re good at, which was the content delivery. It really felt like a situation where everyone was using their strengths.”

Another benefit of the summer partnership was that it promoted public outreach and access. The aquarium has several community-based programs to help people get reduced-price or free tickets, but even so, “The aquarium is not accessible to everyone for various reasons,” said Smith. “You have single-parent families or parents working so hard they don’t find time to come here. Those situations by definition exist in the most disadvantaged segments of our society. So my goal is to make the aquarium accessible to as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible, and tear down those barriers.”

The partnership included other events to appeal to a wide audience as well as the plankton station. There was storytelling with puppets for young children, and nature walks telling the history of Mount Rainier and Elliott Bay. “Working with Friends of Waterfront Seattle, we were making a space where people could come for free,” said Smith. Passersby could join in, people could come and go — and even bring their dogs. “It was much more freeform than we can be here in the building,” said Smith. “That really helped me accomplish my personal goal of making the aquarium more accessible to people and felt really fulfilling to me.”



Seattle Aquarium hosted free marine biology tours on Pier 62 over the summer of 2021. Photo by Adam Lu.

Ryan Hawk, Plankton tow, Teens, Staff, Interps Photo releases signed by classes. Seattle Aquarium staff and volunteers Education and school programs

Seattle's waterfront is teaming with life- including salmon, seals, plankton, and jellyfish! Photo by Adam Lu.

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Through partnership, Friends of Waterfront Park and organizations like Seattle Aquarium are creating an inclusive and accessible waterfront where everyone is welcome. Learn how you can be a part of a growing community that supports this important work.

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