Aquarium staffer Kyle Fukui (left), Robyn Douglas, manager Ricky Belanger, Brianna Marcoux and Nathan Duifhuis are getting ready for the Saturday opening of the Discovery Passage Aquarium. Not pictured are returning staff members Hailee Arlitt and Rochelle Helstrom. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Discovery Passage Aquarium getting prepped for Saturday’s opening

Facility gives people wider look at life in the waters around Campbell River this summer

Our neighbours under the sea will be once again on view starting this weekend.

That’s when the Discover Passage Aquarium opens its door for the coming season.

“A lot of the effort that I’ve put into this year is just … improving what we’ve already had,” says manager Ricky Belanger.

Much of this has focused on improving the well-being of the animals, he adds.

While some plans are being finalized, staff members have been getting ready for the first day this Saturday. Belanger has a couple of staff returning from last year and has added a few more to the ranks.

To help, the aquarium also has a bigger group of volunteers to help this year.

“We do have a fairly strong volunteer contingent starting out the season this year,” he says. “We’re going to have a lot more volunteer opportunities.”

RELATED STORY: This is the dream job for Discovery Passage Aquarium’s new manager

Last year, they did a beach clean-ups in conjunction with World Oceans Day. This year, on June 8, they will be conducting sea star survey at Willow Point Reef to help with data for a regional inventory. Belanger cites a couple of local sea stars that are considered important “keystone” species in terms of showing the health of marine life. They had been plentiful in the past but started declining, with other species moving in.

“It’s something that people took for granted,” he says. “You go out on the beach, and you just see sea stars. One year, they’re just gone.”

RELATED STORY: Aquarium cleans up Campbell River ocean front

One of main programs this year is the summer camp where kids can take part in science-related activities, such as studying marine life or taking inter-tidal day field trips, or art-themed activities, such as making arts and crafts from plastic debris they find. The camps take place Monday to Friday. The science-themed camps run July 8 to 12, July 29 to Aug. 2 and Aug. 19 to 23. The art-themed camps run July 22 to 26 and Aug. 12 to 16. Anyone interested can sign up at the website.

As far as what will be in the aquarium tanks, the staff were spending this week continuing to gather sea life. One feature this year is a new scallop exhibit. The facility will also offer a microscope table this year for visitors to look more closely at the animals.

The aquarium received a grant from the Pacific Salmon Foundation to help them order new tanks that will not fog up. They will also have bigger tanks allowing them to house more species – an example being a wolf eel they hope to transfer from another facility.

Before the end of season, there are plans for a Pier Screen, an interactive touchscreen display for visitors to the aquarium and the Discovery Pier that hooks up to a live feed underwater, among other features.

“It’s pretty sweet,” says Belanger.

Another change in 2019, he says, is an agreement with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to bring in some species for short-term visits. There are types of marine life like nudibranchs that do not tend to like aquarium conditions over the long term. However, the facility will be able to bring some species in for shorter visits, perhaps over a week.

“Once a week, we might bring in a new, interesting species and then switch them up as the season goes by,” he says.

RELATED STORY: Campbell River aquarium gives look at the night life of sea creatures

The Discover Passage Aquarium opening is set for Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at 621B Island Hwy. For more information, see http://discoverypassageaquarium.ca/ or the Facebook page.

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