Donut the turtle is one of the many residents at the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre at Harbour Quay. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)

Vancouver Island aquariums reopening this week

The new volunteer board is looking at fundraising ideas to keep Alberni facility open

At the aquariums in Port Alberni and Campbell River to the list of Vancouver Island attractions reopening their doors.

The Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship reopened to the public on Monday, June 22.

Port Alberni’s aquarium has been struggling since early March, when the former board announced that fundraising efforts had not been enough to sustain the organization into 2020.

Since that announcement, the new, non-profit Alberni Aquarium Association took over the aquarium, then the COVID-19 pandemic forced the temporary closure of the business.

“We are still struggling, as many businesses and non-profits are,” explained aquarium manager Jenny Fortin. “We have the funds to keep the aquarium going until the end of July. We’re hoping that by opening our doors, we can keep them open past July.”

The aquarium has a “very strict plan” for re-opening, said Fortin, which will be made available on the aquarium’s Facebook page and website. Visitors will be required to enter through the front of the building and exit through the back, following arrows on the floor to stay distanced as they look at the exhibits. All staff members will wear face masks and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the building. The washrooms will be open to staff only, although there are public washrooms available at Harbour Quay’s Spirit Square.

“Most of the hands-on aspects of our exhibits have been removed,” said Fortin. “The touch tanks are closed.”

Over the past few months, the association has been coming up with a number of creative ways to generate funds, with the help of some “very generous community supporters,” said Fortin. Things like tank sponsorships and salmon fry adoption are available for individuals to help keep the animals in the tanks alive. The aquarium was also able to acquire enough grant funding to hire three students to work throughout the summer.

“We’re still looking for creative ways we can make partnerships throughout the community,” Fortin said. “We need some type of big fundraiser to help us get through the summer.”

During the first few days of the aquarium’s opening, admission will be by donation (cash only). Hours will be limited to 2-5 p.m. The gift shop will be open, although visitors are asked to avoid touching the products.

Further north, a school of socially-distanced salmon stickers will be on the floor to welcome patrons to the Discovery Passage Aquarium when it re-opens for the summer this Saturday.

Armed with a safety plan outlining health and safety protocols to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, Campbell River’s Discovery Passage Aquarium society announced its Aquarium and Explorer Lab would be re-opening for its regular hours on June 27 at 10 a.m.

Among the measures, visitors can expect enhanced cleaning protocols, reduced capacity in the aquarium and no touch tanks – they are strictly eyes-only this year due to the risk of contamination of residual chemicals from soaps and hand sanitizers.

In mid-May, representatives from small aquariums across the province – including the Ucluelet Aquarium and Discovery Passage Aquarium – met to discuss how best to protect staff, volunteers and animals during the pandemic.

At Discovery Passage Aquarium, which is located next to the Campbell River Fishing Pier, visitors will have to sanitize their hands before entering the aquarium. There will be a maximum of eight visitors, or two groups at a time, allowed in the aquarium. Pylons will be set up outside to encourage those waiting to maintain two metres distance.

While the aquarium will be open for its usual schedule (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week until September), it may close periodically for 15-30 minutes at a time so staff can sanitize and perform safe animal husbandry.

The Discovery Passage Aquarium would normally open for the season in May, but the pandemic meant a delay in opening.

While it hasn’t been open to the public yet this year, aquarium staff have been working on educational material, like its video series. Each week, they profiled a different marine creature and there’s a library of videos on everything from grunt sculpins to crimson anemones.

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