“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
This past Saturday, I participated in the Walk For The Penguins, an annual event coordinated by Mystic Aquarium. The purpose of the event is to raise funds for and awareness about the plight of the African Penguin. The most frequent question I have been asked over the past couple of weeks whenever I brought up this event is, “There are PENGUINS? In AFRICA?” Yes, yes there are. And they are in trouble as a species. Their population has dwindled significantly, and they are in danger of extinction. According to the Mystic Aquarium website, as of 2013, biologists estimated the current wild African penguin population at only 19,000 pairs, and states that the population has declined by 70% in the last 10 years. So Mystic Aquarium, in partnership with The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), actively work at education and conservation efforts.
The Walk for the Penguins event actually consists of three events; a 5K run, a 2-mile walk and a short kids’ fun run. Since I was doing this event with my two young children, we opted for the 2-mile walk.
We traveled down to Mystic the afternoon before the race in order to avoid early Saturday drama trying to get out the door and to pick up our registration materials early. To our delight, we found that the hotel we were staying at was well within a safe walking distance from the aquarium.
All prepared with our bibs pinned to our shirts, we walked to the aquarium Saturday morning and found a friendly, festive atmosphere. There were a couple of African penguins on display as well as a penguin mascot, both of which were easily accessible for photo ops. When the starting announcement came, we were able to ease our way toward the start line. Since we were participating in the 2-mile walk, there were a lot of strollers and leashed dogs, but there was no crowding and the participants were all friendly.
Once the cowbell rang (and what is better than MORE COWBELL to start an event??), we were off! My 9-year old daughter walked and trotted, while my husband and I tried to keep with our 5-year old while keeping an eye on our eldest. Eventually, I sent The Hubs ahead to keep pace with my older daughter while I carried my little one piggy back style for the last 1/2 mile of the course. The route was flat and friendly, down and back one road, through the aquarium and the adjacent shopping center, and ended at the entrance to a parking lot filled with post-race food, hydration and fun. There were plenty of volunteers along the way who cheered people on and pointed them in the right directions and the atmosphere was definitely a festive one.
After the event, we were welcomed into Mystic Aquarium, which was, in a word, AWESOME!!!! The beluga whales, the penguins, the sea lions, the frogs, the birds, the shellfish, the jellyfish, the FISH fish, the stingray pool, all of it so incredibly interactive, interesting, educational and FUN! There were also several Halloween-themed game stations set up for kids, which basically ensured that we would see all of the aquarium and actually helped us adults to encourage our kids to take our time and take in all of what we could see.
Worthy cause? Check. Physical activity? Check. Family-friendliness? Check. Will I participate again? You betcha!
If you live in Connecticut, southern Massachusetts or Rhode Island and haven’t journeyed to Mystic Aquarium, I enthusiastically encourage you to take a day trip. If you are located somewhere beyond those areas and are traveling anywhere near Mystic, I highly recommend making the detour off of Route 95. This place is well worth the price of admission, and you can make memories that last a lifetime.
For more information about Mystic Aquarium, visit: http://www.mysticaquarium.org/
For more information about SANCCOB and the efforts to conserve the African penguins, visit: http://www.sanccob.co.za/?m=1
(Photos may not be used without permission)