In Our Hands

By Ric Urban, Senior Biologist

Can you imagine a day when there is more plastic in the Oceans than fish and other marine life?

Newport Aquarium has joined 18 other aquariums around the country in a new initiative to “stand up” and take a stance against plastic pollution and our society’s dependency on single-use plastics.  Monterey Bay Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium and the National Aquarium are the founders of this movement that invited Newport Aquarium to join other notable aquariums across the United States in this collaboration known as the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) in 2016.


In Our Hands is a consumer campaign of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), a coalition of 19 U.S. aquariums taking action together to advance ocean and freshwater conservation.

This summer’s campaign is called “In Our Hands” and the mission is to encourage our guests and our communities to reduce their plastic use and find alternatives.  The ACP is setting a goal to eliminate or reduce plastic beverage bottles in our respective institutions by 2020.

Each member has already eliminated plastic straws and single-use bags, and intends to “significantly reduce or eliminate” other plastics over the next few years.  Our Aquariums want to set the example in our communities that we are concerned and want to make a difference.


All known species of sea turtle ingest or are entangled by plastic in their lifetimes. Join aquariums in turning the tide, at #SkipTheStraw #LoseTheLid

The members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership are also members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  More than180 million visitors visit zoos and aquariums each year and our aquariums have a responsibility to educate of visitors of the dangers of plastic pollution and the effects it has on our freshwater and marine environments. New studies have shown more than 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean every year and the number is expected to double by 2025.  In the United States alone, plastic waste averages more than 200 pounds per person each year.  The Aquarium Conservation Partnership members are not only raising awareness about plastic pollution, promoting behavioral changes with our guests, but also working with business partners and vendors to share good alternatives to single-use plastics and introduce new products and materials.

Our choices are transforming the ocean, lakes, and rivers


Plastic is now found in almost every marine habitat on Earth, and we’re producing more than we can sustainably manage. Source: A. Lusher, Microplastics in the marine environment: distribution, interactions and effects, Marine Anthropogenic Litter, 2015.

Change takes time

You can help make a difference. Every time you go to the grocery store and every time you drink a bottle of water or soda.  By changing to a re-useable water bottle, you’re making a healthy change in your personal lifestyle and making a life-saving contribution to our planet. Last year, the U.S. used about 50 billion plastic water bottles; that is nearly 200 per person.

reusable water bottle

Our everyday choices are transforming the ocean – but the solution to the plastic problem is #InOurHands. Find out how you can help at

Where do all these water bottles go?  Are they recycled?  Studies say no.  Only 23 percent of the plastic bottles were recycled, meaning this plastic was ending up in our landfills or in our waterways.


It is time for all of us to “accept the challenge” to reduce our dependency on single-source plastics.  Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask for paper bags at the grocery store or bring your own re-useable tote bags
  • Skip the Straw at places you eat. Ask the staff not to bring straws to you or put them in your drinks.
  • Drink your beer from the tap or buy beer in growlers at the store. This reduces your use of cans and bottles and less recycling.
  • Start using a re-useable water bottle.
  • Reduce, Re-Use, and Recycle – every little bit helps

Join Newport Aquarium and the Aquarium Conservation Partners in making this change to “Save Wild Animals and Save Wild Spaces.” Take pictures and tell us how you’re doing your part and we’ll share them on social media. Remember to use #InOurHands with your posts.

Ric is skipping the straw

We’ve eliminated plastic straws and bags, because we love our sea animals. Visit and find out what you can do for your favorite aquatic creature.

For more information on the “In Our Hands” campaign, visit:

Ric-Urban-portrait-120x120About Ric: Ric has more than 30 years experience working in AZA-accredited institutions. He will be presenting in two sessions at the upcoming 2017 AZA Annual Conference: Consume for Conservation and  Using Innovative Science to Refine Conservation Actions. Ric is the Project Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Program. He also holds a seat on the AZA African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) and Penguin Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Steering Committees, and is a member of the AZA’s Animal Welfare Committee.

Celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day by helping this adorable endangered species

By Madison Wallace, Newport Aquarium PR Aide

NEWPORT, Ky. — If you’ve been to Newport Aquarium, you’ve probably heard about, or even met, one of our beloved African penguins.

Oct. 17 is the perfect day to celebrate these birds with African Penguin Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness for African penguins and the factors threatening their species.

“African Penguin Awareness Day is an opportunity for us to celebrate these unique birds, along with bringing awareness to their status as an endangered species,” said Ric Urban, chief conservation officer at Newport Aquarium and resident penguin expert.

This international holiday was established by Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), an organization supported by the WAVE Foundation, Newport Aquarium’s nonprofit partner.

African penguins 2

“The Conductor” by Flickr user Roger Smith. Boulders Penguin Colony, Cape Town, South Africa.

One of SANCCOB’s most significant projects is known as chick bolstering and involves the rescue, rehabilitation and eventual release of African penguin chicks that have been orphaned or injured.

In the wild, these warm-weather penguins can be found living in colonies on the coastal islands that dot the shore of South Africa and Namibia.

They prefer to eat anchovies, sardines and the occasional mollusk, and generally consume 14 percent of their weight in fish daily; the equivalent of a 150-pound person eating 21 pounds of food a day!

What you may not know is that these adorable, tuxedoed birds are endangered.

In the past century, the population of African penguins has plummeted from several million to roughly 30,000 as a result of pollution, global warming, egg harvesting and overfishing off the coast of southern Africa.

This species needs our help.

“If nothing changes, we could see African penguins disappear completely within the next couple of decades,” said Urban.

With an estimated 1,000 African penguins under professional animal care globally, it’s essential that zoos and aquariums across the world work together to help this species in recovering. Because of their drastic population decline, African penguins were one of the first 10 animals named to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) program that launched in May 2015.

Newport Aquarium is home to eight African penguins — Paula, Randi, Simon, Sandy, Speckles, Blueberry, Green Bean and Red Pepper — all of whom were hand-raised, allowing them to bond with humans more easily. This makes them ideal for helping to educate the public about their species.

African penguins at Newport Aquarium

The African penguins at Newport Aquarium. (L-R): Speckles, Paula, Red Pepper, Green Bean (back), Simon (back), Sandy, Randi, Blueberry

As ambassador animals for Newport Aquarium, our African penguins aren’t on exhibit, but guests can meet them by going on a Penguin Encounter, which allows guests to interact with these birds in small groups, along with opening up discussion about this threatened species.

“African Penguins are naturally inquisitive and social,” said Urban. “They’re very curious about people, making them amazing outreach animals. It’s almost impossible to see an African penguin waddling around and not smile in response. There’s something about these birds that people just connect to.”

While both Newport Aquarium and the WAVE Foundation have brought awareness to these birds through community outreach, monetary contributions and knowledge exchange, we need your help.

For African Penguin Awareness Day, there are many simple ways for everyone to help the future of these birds:
•    Experience a Penguin Encounter at Newport Aquarium; a portion of Penguin Encounter ticket proceeds directly to SANCCOB
•    Purchase Penguin Artwork (art by penguins, not of penguins) from the WAVE Foundation; a portion of proceeds benefit African penguins
•    Visit SANCCOB’s website and donate directly to the seabird conservation efforts
•    Spend a couple minutes learning about African penguins, and start the conversation with those around you

These penguins need our help every day, but African Penguin Awareness Day is a great place to start.


Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

Stay Hooked In: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | YouTube | WordPress

One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444