Teaching conservation and funding research projects are priorities
Ocean Park is being projected as more than just a theme park. It is a park with a mission to connect people to nature.
'If we can do this and our guests leave here with a better feeling of what they can do in terms of recycling and conservation, that's great. Then they will do the things that help conservation,' chief executive Tom Mehrmann said.
Through the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong, the park seeks to ensure the survival of the giant panda and other animals, including whales, dolphins, birds, reptiles and Asian amphibians.
It funds conservation and scientific research projects worldwide to help save endangered Asian wildlife and habitats. Researchers worldwide who are in this type of work are eligible to apply for funding from the foundation, which is now funding studies that include research into Irrawaddy dolphins, dugongs and other threatened species.
From every paid admission to Ocean Park, HK$1 goes towards the foundation and every second Saturday of January, which is designated Ocean Park Conservation Day, all proceeds from the gates go to the foundation.
Celebrities Andy Lau Tak-wah, Aaron Kwok Fu-shing and Charlie Young Choi-nei have thrown their weight behind the conservation efforts made by Ocean Park, making special appearances consistently over the years.
Research at Ocean Park extends into husbandry skills, which is generally acknowledged as one of the best in the region. One of its biggest achievements was the successful 2001 birth of two Pacific bottlenose dolphins conceived through artificial insemination.
Animals are a big feature at the park. Jia Jia and An An, two giant pandas that were gifts from the Central Government of China, dolphins, sea lions and birds are some of the animals that delight visitors and provide learning opportunities for them.
The edutainment aspect of the park and its animals have proven to be big draws over the years. The park's Dolphin Encounter programme and other activities, such as breakfast with the pandas or sea lions, or having dinner on the Atoll Reef, all contribute towards making the in-park experience stronger.
'People get educated without even realising it. It's all about education and experience coming together,' Mr Mehrmann said.
Making education entertaining and fun is an important strategy of the park. Every year, about 35,000 children go to Ocean Park for a real-life learning experience under the auspices of the Ocean Park Academy.
The academy, established in 2004, works with the Education and Manpower Bureau to consolidate in-park education into programmes.
'We take learning out of the classroom and put it into the park,' said Mr Mehrmann, adding that the best learning was through involving students in the learning process and engaging their senses through hands-on activities, close encounters with animals and plants and mechanical thrill rides.
'Information is good, but inspiration is better,' he said.
The academy's Ocean Park summer school programme provides children with the opportunity to go behind the scenes and care for animals, an activity that has received an enthusiastic response from students and parents.