Soon, the Alberni Inlet won’t be the only place fish are swimming at Harbour Quay.
The inside of the former Clocktower Gallery has been painted a vivid ocean blue and the aquariums are being installed this week as West Coast Aquatic prepares to open up their stewardship centre. A soft opening (as opposed to a grand opening) on May 1 will coincide with the Race the Train event.
The first thing you’ll see as you walk in will be a giant sea creature, said West Coast Aquatic stewardship executive director Sheena Falconer.
“When you walk in, we’re putting graphics on the far wall—we’re down to between whales and octopus—so you kind of get a sense right off the bat,” Falconer said.
To the right of the entrance are three tanks—freshwater, estuary and intertidal—meant to show the life cycles of salmon.
“In the freshwater tank, the salmon are swimming in a figure eight around a vegetated salmon,” said Falconer, adding that having visitors be able to see the salmon will personalize the importance of taking care of their environment.
“We’ll call him, say, Sammy the salmon. Now that you’re attached to Sammy the salmon, what can you do to save his home?”
The rest of the displays will have the same message.
“The messaging for all of these displays is the same, there’s going to be personal stories about all the animals.”
That messaging is key to the stewardship centre’s mission, she says.
“Everything is catch and release here. We want people to understand that we’re not just randomly taking these animals out of their environment for entertainment, we’re doing it because we think it’s important to deliver a message about these animals’ homes,” said Falconer.
“I’m really passionate about that and it took a lot of soul searching before I considered taking animals out.”
With the ‘catch and release’ style of the aquarium, there will be a constant stream of new marine animals for visitors to get to know.
“We’ll cycle turtles and frogs and aquatic insects,” said Falconer.
There will be opportunities to see the animals face to face.
“There’s the aqua dome so if you go under, there’s a bit of a dome over your head and you’re looking through the water.”
Visitors will then pass though an ocean tunnel where people will be able to see underwater creatures like jellyfish.
“It will be backlit so that the jellyfish are very serenely lit.”
The further along at the back of the space will be touch tanks and an educational area.
“People can come with their pinky and touch an animal,” Falconer said.
Touch tank creatures will also be cycled in and out of the centre or will be there on a more permanent basis as part of a conservation effort.
“Some will be animals that have been caught and can’t go back into the wild so it’s either death or stay here and other animals will be here because say, we’re fry salvaging, and they’re staying here with us temporarily.”