Aquarium visitors include Carson, Emily and Anthony Cartlidge along with Cameron Cormack (rear). After-school programming of Under the Microscope is intended to attract curious kids. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

WATCH: Port Alberni gets up close and personal with sea life

Gift of microscope takes Alberni Aquarium visitors into hidden world



Living, breathing aquatic life — a tiny world largely invisible to the unaided eye — comes into sharp focus at Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre thanks to a donation from a regular visitor.

Through the lens of a handheld digital microscope hooked up to a video monitor, visitors can peer into the pulsating tentacles of an anemone, gain a closer understanding of the intricate internal workings of a turban snail or discover the hidden beauty of an anenome.

“It was a gift from a local family,” said Jenny Fortin, aquarium co-ordinator. “They came in and said, ‘We want to give back to the aquarium because we’ve been regular visitors.’ ”

The Celetron scope wasn’t an expensive acquisition — they retail for about $200-$300 — but for a non-profit facility such as the aquarium the device is priceless in terms of educational potential. Revealing new worlds can be an effective way of inspiring young minds and providing a closer understanding for all.

“We like to inspire people, open their eyes to what’s out there,” Fortin said.

Port Alberni is a maritime community, but there are still a lot of people who don’t have a close connection to the ocean, she added.

“We want to share our knowledge and let them know what’s out there.”

Elaine Gray, the donor, regularly brings her grandchildren Lilly and Annabelle to the facility. When Gray asked about a wish list, the aquarium suggested the microscope. Part of the idea is to attract more visitors out of curiosity, particularly midweek when Fortin would like to see more through the door. That’s why the aquarium holds Under the Microscope, a free demonstration of the scope each Wednesday, 3:30-4:30 p.m.

The more visitors, the more likely the aquarium, which opened only two years ago, can remain operating.

“We want to keep the doors open,” Fortin said.

Jim Wright, an aquarium volunteer, demonstrates the device, using it to probe animal behaviour for all to see.

“It’s not a powerful microscope,” Wright explained. “You can see most of what it sees if you look closely.”

But you would need powerful vision to pick up the same level of detail magnified on the screen. Plus, Wright’s interpretation rounds out the educational experience, particularly for children who may be experiencing a microscopic world for the first time.

“I see it every day, little kids’ eyes opening up,” Fortin said. “I love the diversity we can cater to.”

“I think it’s a great way to educate people,” said Richard Knighton, aquarium interpreter.

The aquarium is run by the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association, a group dedicated to habitat restoration, species enhancement, protection, education and stewardship.

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