Primarily geared towards providing family entertainment, including dolphin shows and thrill rides, Ocean Park also aims to educate schoolchildren about the wonders of nature and the importance of conservation.
In 2004, the Ocean Park Academy (OPA) was set up to promote the cause by offering education programmes to students from kindergarten to secondary school.
"We have a wealth of resources that make us the ideal place for these programmes," says education manager Isabel Li.
A sponsorship scheme was put in place the same year, waiving fees for students who receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, and upper-secondary students in the Student Financial Assistance Agency's fee remission scheme. The latter ended in 2008 with the extension of free education to 12 years.
The OPA's sponsorship initiative was enhanced in 2007, with HK$2 million set aside for the purpose. About 12 per cent of the 35,000 to 40,000 students who take part in the programmes each year benefit from the scheme.
Last September, it was further expanded to include students under the School Textbook Assistance Scheme and the Kindergarten and Child Care Centre Fee Remission Scheme. The former helps needy primary and secondary school children buy textbooks and stationery, and covers miscellaneous school-related expenses, while the latter provides parents-in-need with financial assistance in the form of fee remission. About 300,000 students benefit from the schemes.
The expansion of the OPA's sponsorship initiative has drawn an enthusiastic response. From 2007 to August last year, about 3,300 students benefited from the scheme. Between September last year and the end of February, OPA received more than 4,600 applications. Almost 2,000 students attended the programmes, while others will join in the coming months until August.
"We had discussions with schoolteachers and found that by including the two government schemes it would benefit more students," Li says.
"We want to make sure that students from low-income families have the opportunity to be touched and engaged by [nature]."
An education programme typically involves learning through interactive activities and up-close observation of nature. For example, primary school children may learn about the different types of dolphins and the effects of pollution on them, and even have a chance to pat a dolphin, as the instructor explains to them its biological features. Most programmes cater to about 20 students and lasts from an hour to half a day. The costs range from HK$40 to HK$120.
Participants are encouraged to complete assignments online, while annual ceremonies are held to reward schools and students that produce creative works. Li finds her work rewarding.
"Once a student who learned about endangered fish from us started a school-wide campaign on sustainable seafood," she says. "What I said to 20 students ended up having an impact on 1,000."
Tools of the trade
What OPA looks for in job applicants
Commitment to environmental education
A bachelor's degree preferably in biology or communications
What OPA provides
Continuous education about animals and plants, and training in communication and presentation skills
Professional training from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Opportunities to visit different zoos and aquariums to learn new ideas