Reef HQ Aquarium volunteers add million-dollar touch

Reef HQ Aquarium is celebrating the work of hundreds of volunteers who have donated 350,000 hours of their time since the centre opened in 1987 — a feat worth more than $5 million.

The aquarium will mark the milestone during National Volunteer Week (May 13–19) with a morning tea on Wednesday 15 May.

Reef HQ Aquarium director Fred Nucifora said the time gifted by volunteers was significant, totalling more than $5.2 million in service.

“Their work is like the cream on the cake that adds value to a visitor’s experience at the aquarium,” he said.

“They always provide a friendly face and are the ones who answer questions and expand the level of service to visitors.

“Volunteers are integral to the Reef HQ Aquarium family and have been part of its fabric since its inception 26 years ago. They’re a highly valued and important part of our operations.”

As the national education centre for the Great Barrier Reef, the aquarium has about 140 volunteers at any time, ranging from 20 to 88 years in age.

President of the Reef HQ Aquarium Volunteers Association Tracey Street attributed the loyalty of volunteers to their passion for the special nature of the Reef and their desire to share it.

“Volunteers pass on their knowledge in a friendly, chatty way so visitors don’t even realise they’re being educated,” she said.

“The aquarium is such a positive environment — everyone is in a good mood and that bounces back and forth between people. It’s a very therapeutic place to work and spend time. And just like our visitors, we learn something new every day.”

As a volunteer, Ms Street said one of her most personally rewarding moments was taking a friend’s small children to visit the aquarium and, months later, hearing them repeat what she had taught them about sea stars.

“I was amazed and delighted they’d remembered, even though they were so small,” she said.

Three of the volunteers have stacked up 26 years of service at the aquarium, 12 have given their time for more than 20 years and eight for more than 15 years.

Reef HQ Aquarium is also a hit with international volunteers, such as university students, with 23 per cent coming from countries such as the UK, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, US, Canada, Malaysia, Japan, China, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and the Middle East.