A Tour in the Hand…

The New England Aquarium"s new multimedia tour for cell phones and MP3 players gives in-depth information about global warming"s effects on jellyfish and other ocean creatures.© New England Aquarium

Audio tours, courtesy of your own mobile phone or handheld device, may hold the best promise for making an environmental impact when visitors come to an aquarium, zoo or national park. There’s great potential for environmental institutions to get in on the mobile tour trend—to give visitors greater historical context and up-to-date information about the endangered animals they’re looking at, or the forests they’re hiking—than wooden placards could ever offer. The Sacramento Zoo already offers a "mobile phone safari" for $3.99 by calling a designated number, and there are audio phone tours of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, and a host of other national historic sites, and walking audio tours of New York, Boston and Denver. The company Geogad offers multimedia tours from around the world that can be sent to travelers" mobile phones, including a free tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Now the New England Aquarium in Boston is offering the Blue Impact Tour, which allows visitors to use their cell phones and MP3 players to learn about the effects of climate change on the Boston Harbor, sea turtles, right whales, sea jellies, shore birds and coral reefs. It contains information about rising sea levels, coral bleaching and dwindling ocean food supplies. There’s an audio and visual component—a full video tour can be downloaded prior to one’s aquarium visit.

Using technology to turn zoo and aquarium visits into a learning experience—rather than just a "looking" one—is crucial. After all, the story of an animal in need is likely to have much greater impact when one is looking into the animal’s eyes. "There is often not a clear connection between the "wow" effects of looking at huge fish in a tank and understanding ocean conservation issues," says Untravel Media president and CEO Michael Epstein, whose company created the tour. "We hope this guide helps bring the two together."

Sources: Blue Impact Tour; CodeIdol; Geogad; Untravel Media.