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As one of the more than 1,200 volunteers at Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative, Nicole (Nikki) Clouthier is in a class of her own — Nikki has been cheerfully dedicating her time to the organization for half a century. In honour of her extraordinary 50 years of service, the Aquarium honoured Clouthier at a special ceremony last week as one of its most ardent and dedicated supporters and as a champion of ocean conservation.
“Nikki’s passion, enthusiasm and commitment to the mission of the Vancouver Aquarium and Ocean Wise is the embodiment of the nature of volunteerism,” says a ceremonial plaque, which has been dedicated in her honour, located beside the Our World is Research information station in the Aquarium’s Canaccord Gallery.
Warm staff toasts, stories, and tributes marked the occasion. Clouthier has volunteered in so many capacities and departments, with such vigour, that she received the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2013 from Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). She has also been named a Patron of the Aquarium.
Karen Howe, Director of Visitor Experience, told the crowd at the event that when she joined the Aquarium team as Volunteer Manager, Clouthier was already a well-established volunteer. Clouthier took Howe under her wing. “It’s been an honour and privilege learning from Nikki over the years,” Howe said. “Her contribution to Vancouver Aquarium, the volunteer program, and to visitor experience has been invaluable.”
Clouthier remembers the moment her interest was piqued. “I was listening to the radio and an appeal was made by the Vancouver Aquarium for ‘volunteers interested in animals and small children. No strings attached, come for coffee,’” she recalls. Intrigued, Clouthier started her volunteer experience in September 1967; her first role was leading tours of Grade 8 students. She was then asked to work in the Wet Lab, a hands-on aquatic classroom, which she describes as “a fabulous place to learn about all kinds of things.” Her roles over the years have included feeding and helping to raise orphaned harbour seal pups, delivering interpretive programs, training marine mammals, improving the Aquarium’s information booth, training and mentoring new volunteers and, as staff, coordinating French language education programs.
More than an incredible 13,000 hours into her Aquarium volunteer experience, Clouthier says that the beauty of volunteering at Vancouver Aquarium is that you can move around, pursuing a special interest or simply choosing to perform a different task, each one more special than the last.
Clouthier currently volunteers at the Our World is Research and AquaNews feature exhibits, explaining the role of the Aquarium’s research projects and what visitors can do to ensure a better future for our oceans. Fluently bilingual, she can do this in both of Canada’s official languages.
Vancouver Aquarium volunteers range in age starting at 10 years old and span individuals, families, and corporate groups. Sporting their navy blue volunteer shirts, they can be found throughout the building, providing customer service, leading information and educational programs, caring for animals, working in the galleries and administrative offices as well as assisting animal rehabilitation efforts off-site at the Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Last year alone, the Aquarium’s volunteers donated 100,000 hours of their time.
To volunteer, individuals must pledge to work a minimum of 50 hours every few months and undergo an intensive 12-hour training program over a three-week period before they begin. It is a job that requires enthusiasm and dedication, but the rewards, as Clouthier is quick to point out, are endless.
“It’s an incredible place – I have learned so much,” she says. “You can never learn it all, of course, but if you continue to volunteer here, you gain so much knowledge of our natural world. At the same time, you’re joining the mission to protect our oceans and all the beautiful animals that live there for generations to come.”