Topeka Zoo educates students on World’s Oceans Day

Llama Love: Two best friends lure the llama to the fence with food provided by the Topeka Zoo. The petting zoo was a popular attraction for visitors of all ages. 

Lisa Herdman

Families and students gathered for annual World’s Ocean Day at the Topeka Zoo from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 4 to interact with exhibits, presentations and educational activities.

The Ocean Project and The World Ocean Network partners with zoos and aquariums across the world to help educate people about ocean life, the effects humans have had on the oceans and what measures people can take as a nation to help clean up the planet’s water and prevent overfishing and pollution.

“Everything [the Topeka Zoo does] is driven by conservation, so we like to have these event days because we are trying to raise awareness of different conservation efforts,” said Rachel Rost, education specialist at the Topeka Zoo. “This event is trying to raise awareness of ocean conservation and providing ways people can help.”

Rost said the zoo had crafts for children to participate in, including shark hats that make children aware of shark finning, “earth balls” where they learned about the different layers of the Earth and booths on microplastics where they could learn about the negative effects of plastics and microbeads on the ocean floor.

A seafood manager from Topeka’s Hy-Vee Store participated in the event by grilling fresh tilapia tacos for the public while explaining the need for consumers to be more aware of what they are eating and how it is affecting the environment. The booth was driven by engaging consumers and students who seemed to be the most receptive to the message about conservation.

“Washburn students can always come to our events. We have special days all the time at the zoo where we are supporting different conservations efforts and organizations,” said Dennis Dinwiddie, director of conservation and education at the Topeka Zoo. “They can also just do the basic things they were taught as kids: to reduce, reuse, recycle, particularly with plastics. That is one of the biggest problems for ocean conservations, and so reducing, reusing and recycling those plastics is a wonderful thing they could participate in.” 

Dinwiddie said the zoo encourages students to come visit and support it or come to the events and support it. Students are more than welcome to get involved in something like this event or volunteer at the zoo.

“We have an enormous amount of activities for children, but we also have a lot of activities for older kids,” Dinwiddle said. “But also college kids, for example, Earth Day, Endangered Species Day, Oceans Day, World Elephant Day, World Giraffe Day, Global Tiger Day, Orangutan Awareness Week – these things identify things that species throughout the world are facing that we can make a difference for.”

Dinwiddle said that kids in college are the generation that tend to want to make a difference, so they are a group the zoo is always hoping to get in there for these kinds of activities so they can become more informed and more aware citizens of the world when it comes to saving species at home, across the nation and the world.

“Well the main thing we want [students] to know is with today being World Ocean’s Day, is that even from the middle of the country we can make a huge difference in the health of the world’s oceans,” Dinwiddle said. “Another way that we can make a difference is to recognize what seafood we should and shouldn’t eat. Make a good choice as to what seafood you are consuming.”

For more information, call (785) 368-9180 to ask about events.