The vibrant underwater world of the Salish Sea, on Canada’s Pacific Coast, will be revealed in the seaside town of Sidney, B.C. when the new $8-million Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre opens this weekend.
Thousands of fish, invertebrates, and marine plant life will be at home here in 87 tonnes of seawater contained in seventeen massive aquarium habitats.
The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre offers visitors a chance to see the amazing diversity of the Georgia Basin, an inland sea known as the Salish Sea, from the giant Pacific octopus to microscopic plankton. Here they’ll find wolf-eels lurking in caverns, anemones, sea stars, sea cucumbers, and colourful rockfish. One of the many highlights is to visit research projects all over the world through real-time live video.
The 930-square-metre (10, 000-square-foot) waterfront location is designed as a bridge from ‘seafloor to seashore’. Visitors start their journey with the sensation of descending into the ocean in the deep-sea ‘elevator’. They arrive at the Gallery of the Drifters where algae, delicate jellies, and other plankton float in backlit aquariums.
From here, visitors move to The Ocean’s Heartbeat, a high-tech classroom with video microscopes, Internet links to undersea sites, and live specimens to study with help from educators. As many as 8, 000 school students a year are expected.
Large aquarium habitats house local marine life in the Gallery of the Salish Sea. A Salish paddle song accompanies a life-sized orca swimming across a giant video screen. The works of First Nations artisans help tell the story of their ancient relationship with the ocean.
Emerging from the Gallery of the Salish Sea, visitors walk beneath the den of a live octopus. The journey continues to the seashore, where people inside and outside the building get their hands wet in touch pools filled with intertidal life.
Reflecting Sidney’s small-town atmosphere, the centre’s presentation style is ’conversational’, says Angus Matthews, executive director. ‘Oceaneers’ are on hand to answer questions, often aided by short video clips depicting marine life of the Salish Sea.
With its educators, Internet links, presentations and rotating exhibits by prominent West-Coast scientists, the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre’s focus is conservation of the Salish Sea.
“We have every teaching tool and learning resource I could ever imagine in this amazing discovery centre, ” says Educator Linda Funk, “Our Oceaneers will inspire visitors of all ages to explore, discover, and cherish the ocean.”
”It’s our hope that people will take from here a deeper appreciation of issues affecting our ocean, and think about their own impact on the local environment.” Funk adds, “In fact, we ask them to make a promise to the ocean before they leave.”
Sidney is the gateway to the Canadian Gulf Islands and American San Juans. Beyond the discovery centre, which is dominated by spectacular views of the ocean and snow-capped Mt. Baker, visitors can embark on adventures in the Salish Sea, including whale watching, bird watching, and beach walks.
“The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre is a place of wonder, ” says Matthews. “We need to learn about and cherish this dynamic eco-system. After all, our ocean lives here.”
More information is available at www.oceandiscovery.ca. The Town of Sidney is on Vancouver Island, ten minutes from the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay, and from Victoria International Airport. There are direct flights to Victoria from many Canadian and US cities, as well as daily ferry service from Washington State and from the B.C. mainland near Vancouver.