Aquarium celebrates in grand style with free events

Credit: Kristi Dobson
Sheena Falconer invites the public to the grand opening of the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre on Saturday.
Kristi Dobson

It has been a couple of years of planning, funding and renovating, but the long-awaited Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre has opened its doors at Harbour Quay. Open for the past month, the aquarium has received a positive response from visitors and staff will be celebrating with a grand opening on Saturday, June 4.

A virtual tour here will take you through the exhibits, most of which are based on a catch-and-release environment. Sheena Falconer, Westcoast Aquatic executive director, said the location is ideal because all of the species on display are from our backyard in the Barclay Sound.

“We can educate people on what is in the water around them because most people can’t often see them,” Falconer said. “It is an ecosystem based aquarium and the idea of the tours is that once you see them, we can show you how you can look after them. People connect more readily when they see things in person and can interact on a close level.”

The feature tank, or “jail”, as executive director, Sheena Falconer calls it, is just at the entrance and is the centre’s conservation aquarium that holds anemones. A variety of sea life lives in the main viewing area. A fresh water tank holds coho and chinook from Robertson Creek Fish Hatchery. They will continue to grow on-site until it is time for their release and then a new batch will take over the tank.

It might be tricky to see the camouflaged fish in the Sand Dabs tank. Falconer said they have incredible vision so they can match their surroundings and are disguised against the sand in their tank.

The intertidal zone is where the land meets the sea, so this tank has barnacles, rock fish, crab, sticklebacks and black-eyed goby.

A man-made pond ecosystem is a good place for safe play for kids. There is nothing live so they can touch and play with frogs and plants without worries of spreading disease.

At the corner of the gallery stands an interactive 400-year old cedar tree that visitors can hop inside and look up to see a massive eagle’s nest.

Next to the Salmon Wheel of Death is the salmon tank with both salmon and pipefish from Canal Beach.

The shallow subtidal tank has a starfish, urchins, and a wolf eel, while the deep tank features Black Rockfish, sea cucumber, squat lobster, prawns and clams and the eye-catching round aquarium has jellyfish from Rainy Bay.

The centre also has an interactive educational area where visitors can touch and feel various anemones in open tanks.

Falconer said the aquarium operates under a code of ethics and bill of rights that require staff to uphold specific standards for animal care by providing food, shelter and a comfortable living environment.

“The Ucluelet Aquarium did studies to see if catch-and-release works and after a couple of years of tracking, they said being in captivity does not harm the animals,” Falconer said.

Tomorrow’s grand opening is also the kick-off to the programs that will take place with the help of the RBC Blue Water grant. Along with instructions on how to keep local streams healthy, information will be provided on four upcoming programs that will be undertaken by West Coast Aquatic, including water quality testing, green boating education, storm drain maintenance and environmental stewardship.

Entrance to the aquarium is free for the grand opening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and outside there will face painting, a water cycle game, activities, art and more. Check out the Facebook page.