Going Below the Surface: Intertidal Zones and Hands-on Education with the Discovery Passage Aquarium

“We’re trying to instill a sense of respect for marine life among our community so that it can be maintained and cherished by future generations.”

The Discovery Passage Aquarium is a non-profit organization specializing in hands-on educational experiences that elevate appreciation and respect for marine wildlife and ecosystems in Campbell River. Aquarium Curator and Manager, Ricky Belanger says their goal is to increase awareness and respect for lesser known species of local marine life. When people think of Campbell River, they think of iconic animals like bears, orcas, salmon and eagles. But with some curiosity and a closer look, there are sea stars, crabs, jellyfish, and much more just below the surface.

The Aquarium models marine stewardship through their careful management of animals on a seasonal basis. “You can learn about all of these species that are ethically collected from their habitats in the springtime, rigorously watched and cared for throughout the summer, and released back into the habitats we got them from, in the fall,” explains Ricky.

The Discovery Passage Aquarium.

The Discovery Passage Aquarium. Image provided by same.

The Explorer Lab and interactive learning

The Aquarium is typically open May through September for guests to come see and touch marine animals that live in Discovery Passage. Knowledgeable staff facilitate hands-on learning experiences and educate guests about biodiversity in the region. The marine animals are released in the fall, but the Aquarium’s Explorer Lab is a year-round educational space. Here, observation tanks and a recirculating aquarium display of animals shows people the species they can see at nearby Willow Point Reef. Ricky says it’s an opportunity for people to get educated during the winter months in anticipation of going tide-pooling in the spring and summer. Plus, it’s a perfect rainy-day outing for families and kids!

The Explorer Lab is located across the parking lot from Discovery Passage Aquarium and can be accessed beside the Maritime Heritage Centre.

In addition to the Explorer Lab and afterschool programming, Aquarium staff are present in the community, educating locals and visitors about best practices for visiting marine ecosystems. In particular, Ricky says there is an increased focus on intertidal zones due to more frequent interactions between the public and marine life.

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How to be a good visitor

Being immersed in wilderness is a fantastic way to learn about marine life, but it’s important to minimize your impact on the environment. Here are some of Ricky’s tips for visitors who are looking to explore beaches and intertidal zones in the Campbell River region:

  • Don’t approach marine life. If you see a seal pup on the beach, the chances are the mother is nearby.
  • Don’t take seashells off the beach.
  • If you can’t resist picking up rocks to sea what creatures are underneath – be sure to flip the rock back how you found it.
  • Keep your dog on a leash and don’t let them chase seabirds.
  • Pack in and pack out what you bring – don’t litter!

Hands-on learning at the Explorer Lab. Photo credit: dpaquarium, IG

Get involved

On top of school programming for kids, the Aquarium puts on educational and community events to get people involved in marine conservation. In the past they’ve hosted beach clean-ups and this fall they’re organizing Sea Star Surveys at Willow Point Reef.

Check out the Discovery Passage Aquarium website or their social media channels to get up to date information on events and volunteer opportunities.

“We’re trying to instill a sense of respect for marine life among our community so that it can be maintained and cherished by future generations.”