Children at a birthday party with Nonie's Ark Animal Encounters might get to meet Jimmy, Jack, or Jill—but despite their deceptively human names, these guests are actually exotic animals. A naturalist and wildlife educator with a background in zoo-animal technology, Nonie encourages kids touch and sometimes hold live animals such as snakes, toads, chinchillas, and sugar gliders during hands-on interactive and educational presentations. Nonie has adopted and cared for each of these creatures, many of which were formerly unwanted pets. At some parties, Nonie also leads children in animal role-playing games like eating dirt cake and worms and doles out goodies such as safari helmets and outdoor toys.
A fully equipped marine laboratory, Dauphin Island Sea Lab provides marine science programs for students and visitors of all ages in an effort to propagate knowledge of marine science and help protect local ecosystems. Dedicated to education, it runs K–12 teacher education programs on the oceans and marine environments to help get these subjects into the classroom. Its summer college programs and graduate programs offer opportunities for further study in oceanography and coastal ecology. The Sea Lab also works to maintain coastal wetlands and resources, conducts research on the Mobile Bay watershed and shore waters, and maintains the Gulf of Mexico Science Journal.
In addition to its scientific work, the Sea Lab runs a public aquarium, the Estuarium, which depicts local marine habitats including the Gulf of Mexico, a drowned river valley, and a living salt marsh. These exhibits contain a variety of native plants and wildlife such as marsh grasses, recreations of cypress swamps, and an American alligator, and at the Estuarium, children can touch live fish.