Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium Connects Community Members and Nature

Humans in Nature strives to combine applied research within outreach efforts to connect individuals of all ages to the natural environment. We wanted to hear from other organizations and communities on how they connect with others and develop a relationship surrounding nature. We interviewed Krystyna Meyer at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL, to hear more about what she does for the Shedd Aquarium and how that might impact her surrounding community.

What does Krystyna do at the Shedd Aquarium? How does she involve the community?

Photo from Krystyna Meyer

In her current role as a Conservation Stewardship Facilitator within Shedd’s Conservation Action team, Krystyna helps lead the Shedd Aquarium Action Days Program and the Kayak for Conservation Program. She also assists with the Let’s Shedd Plastic Program and other public outreach work.

The Shedd Aquarium Action Days Program revolves around engaging big and small volunteer groups in two main activities: Coastal Habitat Restoration and Woodland Habitat Restoration. Coastal Habitat Restoration allows the Shedd Aquarium to work with the Chicago Park District to help maintain the natural spaces within city parks for the people and wildlife that enjoy them. This could be through cleaning coastlines of litter, pulling weeds, planting native species, or seed collecting. Woodland Habitat Restoration involves making a positive difference for amphibians and other wildlife by restoring habitats overrun by invasive species. The Aquarium volunteers and works with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, using hand tools to cut and burn invasive brush to make room for native flora and fauna. Krystyna went into more detail about what they might do with volunteers:

Photo from Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium

“For the woodland restoration days, we teach them about invasive species, specifically, European buckthorn and Asian honeysuckle, which are invasive shrubby trees that we remove. So we teach them, what are invasive species? Why are they a problem? What is biodiversity? Why are invasive species causing biodiversity to be lost? Then, we teach them how to cut and remove these trees, and then we burn them and pesticide them. And then it’s just amazing…And it’s so rewarding. And it’s rewarding because of a million reasons, but one is we have really dedicated volunteer groups.”

She also reveals that volunteers may come once and realize that they love helping and come back as regulars. Moreover, many volunteers take on leadership positions over time.

Photo from Krystyna Meyer

Krystyna also assists with the Kayak for Conservation program, which is the only fee-based program her team oversees. They strive to make it more accessible by offering varying programs for every level and having a low starting cost for individuals and families ($20 per person) with the option for individuals to donate more if they can. This program brings people to explore the Chicago River via kayak and learn about the wildlife that lives there. Many people may view the Chicago River as dirty or something to avoid, but the river has come a long way. The program has been working hard with its partners at Urban Rivers to create a manmade wetland habitat within an area of the river dubbed The Wild Mile. They have seen wildlife return, and they are working to create a safe and educational program that allows people to learn about their natural environments!

When asked how she got started working within her community, Krystyna talked about how she wants people to have the opportunity to be exposed to nature like she has. She wants everyone to have the opportunity to learn and grow from these kinds of experiences. Doing work like this often does not require a college degree. You can learn in the field and through past experiences and from other resources. Krystyna discussed how she would go to a local grove on her lunch break and use an app to take pictures and identify plants. She would see plants at different stages and learn from others about the different species around her. Resources like this can help with understanding nature and your surroundings!

Why does Krystyna enjoy being in nature?

Photo from Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium

We love to ask people why they enjoy being in nature, and we thought Krystyna would be a great person to ask this question to!

“Hmm, let me think on this for a second. Peace. That’s so cliché. But it’s like, it’s an escape. It’s peace.  It is my escape from everything. It’s my safe space. I want to make sure it’s a safe space for everyone. Because I know that, that’s a privilege. I want everyone to be able to go to greenspace by their home and feel safe and at peace there.”

Throughout our interview, Krystyna emphasized the importance of nature and how it can be healing and helpful in various ways. In addition, she discussed the importance of making it an accessible, diverse, and inclusive environment for all people, places, and habitats. Thank you, Krystyna, for all of the important work you do and for taking the time to talk with us!

How to get involved

If people are in the Chicago or Cook County area and want to get involved, you can contact ActionDays@sheddaquarium.org to register for a Shedd Aquarium Action Day or get more information!

Shedd Aquarium: Action Days

Shedd Aquarium Kayak for Conservation

Shedd Aquarium: Care and Conservation

iNaturalist App

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