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Mom on the Move Laura Bankey

Lives: Pasadena

Children: Abigail, 9

Occupation: Director of field conservation, National Aquarium

What motivated you to start working with the National Aquarium?

I grew up just south of Baltimore, but moved out of state after graduating from high school. After years of being away, including going to college at the University of Dallas, then graduate school at Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, where I received my master’s degree in marine science, I jumped at the chance to move back to the area. As I dreamed about a new career back in my home state, the National Aquarium was on the top of my list. I remember when it opened and what a big impact it had on the city and I see that work continuing today. I was also extremely interested in working for an organization actively involved in conservation, helping to restore and protect important aquatic habitats.

You’ve worked at the aquarium for more than 10 years now. What are some of the most exciting changes you’ve seen?
The most significant shift has been the concerted effort over the past several years to expand and emphasize our conservation work. The National Aquarium understands that we have a responsibility to use our public voice to support and advance the conservation of species and our blue planet. From conversations about climate change to rescuing endangered species, restoring important habitats and developing sustainable operations practices, we are strategically working to make a significant impact and engage our audiences in the effort.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Many people can relate to some of my days at the aquarium: I’m answering emails, going to meetings, writing grants, developing programs, etc. However, the best days are spent in the field. We do a lot of habitat restoration work, so I’m often on the site early in the morning with my staff preparing for the day. We open our projects up to volunteers, and in a few hours, we will have planted thousands of native plants or picked up tens of thousands of pieces of trash that ends up on our shorelines. It can be pretty hard work, especially if the weather is not cooperating, but the passion and dedication of our volunteers is infectious and the days go by quickly.

What interests you about conservation specifically, and what do you wish more people knew about it?
I’m drawn to the conservation field because I want a healthy environment in which to live and raise my daughter. It doesn’t mean I want to whisk my family away to some remote area of the world and live far away from civilization. For me, this means clean water and air, green (and blue) spaces to enjoy, and a diversity of plants and animals supported by healthy ecosystems — no matter where you live. In reality, those healthy ecosystems include your backyard, your local park and your nearby stream. Each of us has a role in making sure they are healthy enough to sustain us. The biggest misconception about conservation is that it is only for a specific part of the community and requires significant sacrifice.

What are your favorite things about working at the aquarium?

The first is the people I work with. This includes not only my staff, but all of the other employees and volunteers at the aquarium who have an undying passion to take care of the animals in our care and to teach our guests about the wonders of our blue planet.   The second is all of the wonderful opportunities I have to travel and work in the field. I’ve had the chance to tag/band sharks, sea turtles, owls, pelicans and osprey.

What are you most looking forward to in the next few years?
I’m really excited about the new projects being implemented around our downtown campus. Recently, we are focusing more of our efforts on Baltimore City and the Inner Harbor. We are looking at new technologies to bring back some of the ecosystem services to the harbor and to identify and track the impact these new improvements are having on local wildlife and water quality. This work will not only benefit the city and its residents, it has the capability to inform the transformation of other urban areas as well.

What do you do in your free time?

Much of my free time is spent with my family. We hike or bike on the weekends and love to go to the beach. When I can steal a few moments for myself, it’s usually spent working in the garden, reading or running.



About Jessica Gregg

Jessica Gregg is the editor of Baltimore's Child. She is a happy rowhouse dweller and mother of two.

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