The Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre is in danger of closing.
Instead of celebrating its fifth season of bringing marine education to the public at its Harbour Quay facility, the not-for-profit entity announced it is a month or two away from being broke.
The aquarium and stewardship centre was the brainchild of West Coast Aquatic, and was built in a space vacated by the Clock Tower Gallery at Harbour Quay. After more than a year of planning and construction, the aquarium opened at the beginning of May 2016.
The facility centres on different ecosystems found around the Alberni Harbour, and has featured creatures such as jellyfish, a wolf eel and even a turtle. West Coast Aquatic has run a net pen program with salmon preparing for life in the ocean off Centennial Pier, near the aquarium. It has been ideal learning tool and it will be a shame if we lose it.
The idea of having a thriving aquarium by the waterfront is not farfetched. Ucluelet, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, started with a few small touch tanks in a construction trailer at its harbour. Now, the Ucluelet Aquarium—which opened for the 2020 season on March 1—is located in an architecturally pleasing building that draws thousands of visitors annually to its unique catch-and-release facility.
Port Alberni’s aquarium started small, has adopted Ucluelet’s catch-and-release philosophy so the creatures in its tanks aren’t there all the time, and has educated hundreds of students and visitors alike on the nature of our oceanic waterfront. Volunteers and staff alike have created employment opportunities, ran summer camps and have been creative with the exhibits they present.
(Full disclosure, the Alberni Valley News has contributed articles to the most recent exhibit on sharks in our waters.)
The aquarium has been generous with the community, and now it needs the community to come to its aid. Several fundraising endeavours have been put into place that will hopefully save the facility from closing, at least for now.
While the immediate priority is finding funding to give the aquarium some breathing room, there are some hard questions that need to be answered. While we are just hearing publicly about the dire need for funding now, something obviously broke down in the process earlier.
If it is the will of the community to save the aquarium—and we feel it is worthwhile to do so—a long-term plan must be part of the solution.
— Alberni Valley News