Dan Ashe, the president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums visited the Tennessee Aquarium today in recognition of more than a quarter-century of continuously meeting the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) expectations for excellence.
"Only the very best zoos and aquariums can meet AZA's accreditation standards for animal care and conservation, which are universally acknowledged as the 'gold-standard' within the zoological profession," Ashe says. "By achieving accreditation continuously for more than 25 years, the Tennessee Aquarium demonstrates a commitment to protecting animals around the world and inspiring their guests to do the same."
There are 236 zoos and aquariums internationally that have been accredited by the AZA. Each organization undergoes a lengthy inspection by a team of experts to ensure it meets standards across a range of criteria, including veterinary resources, participation in conservation and research, education programming, safety, security, staffing, guest service and the quality of facilities.
The Tennessee Aquarium underwent this multi-day inspection in December 2018. In their inspection report, the visiting committee delivered high praise to the Aquarium for "enthusiasm and dedication amongst the staff," "commitment to ... local conservation efforts" and "significant [contribution to] economic development in Chattanooga."
Facilities are re-evaluated and re-accredited every five years. This latest renewal marks a significant achievement and an important reflection of the Aquarium's commitment — in particular — to excellence in animal care, says Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jackson Andrews.
"Continuously earning AZA accreditation for this long is a reflection of the combined efforts of the entire Aquarium team," Andrews says. "The process is a very in-depth review of everything we do. Accreditation made it better for all the zoos and aquariums like us who are doing well in all aspects, but especially in focusing so strongly on animal welfare."
Before taking over as head of the AZA in 2017, Ashe was the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to touring both Aquarium buildings, Ashe toured the Aquarium's freshwater science center and met with the staff of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
"I am impressed that the Aquarium has made the commitment to helping species that we don't see or think about on a daily basis," Ashe says. " We share a common bond with those species in the quality and quantity of water that's available to us. And when those species are having trouble existing, that tells us something about our own existence and how fragile it is."
Witnessing, first hand, the resources that are being focused on studying and safeguarding the Southeast's unparalleled diversity of aquatic life highlights what makes the Aquarium special, Andrews says.
"We're a unique institution," he says. "We're one of few zoos or aquariums that has a conservation arm that's doing something in their own backyard. I think he was quite impressed with what we're doing at the Conservation Institute, with the LEED-certified building itself and with our staff of scientists who are making a difference in the southeastern United States."
For more information about the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's accreditation process, visit aza.org/becoming-accredited. For more information about Dan Ashe, visit aza.org/staff.