Port Alberni’s aquarium is in danger of closing.
Fundraising efforts for the non-profit Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre were not enough to sustain the organization into 2020. Unless the community can come up with the funds to save it, the aquarium will be closing its doors before its anniversary in May. It opened in 2016.
Jenny Fortin, manager of the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre, said the news came as “a bit of a shock” to her.
“A board member came in on Thursday morning and said we have a month, maybe two, to turn things around,” she said.
The aquarium’s fundraising campaign in 2019 did not pan out the way staff had hoped, Fortin explained.
“But I thought that we had a little more time,” she added. “We need something big to happen.”
Fortin is hoping she can find support from unexpected places. She is looking for a partnership—with a business, government or First Nation—as well as grant funding opportunities. In the meantime, the aquarium is launching a major fundraising campaign, including a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/save-the-alberni-aquarium).
“There’s a small army of supporters out there,” Fortin laughed. “That’s going to get us to the next step.”
Other initiatives include a bottle drive (drop off your bottles under the account number E070364) and a family fundraiser day partnering with All Mex’d Up Taco Shop and the Donut Shop, set for later this month.
Several businesses have containers on their counters where people can drop off change, and supporters are looking at holding a “tag day blitz” outside of local grocery stores.
“We’re also looking to approach city council,” said Fortin. “We’re going to ask for a rent reduction, or any way that city council can help us out.”
Fortin said that the loss of the aquarium would be “devastating” to Port Alberni.
“We don’t have the train running, the mill has been going through some tough times,” she explained. “[The aquarium] has become a bit of a community centre. It’s become a place for people. I think it will greatly impact our community.”
The aquarium’s main priority, she explained, is to promote education, environmental awareness, sustainability and local culture. Last year, the aquarium hosted more than 60 school groups and also hosted weekly story and craft groups, as well as a Junior Scientist Club and educational summer camps. In the past, the aquarium has participated in habitat restoration projects in the Valley, including tree planting in the estuary, salmon enhancement net-pen projects and a partnership with Ducks Unlimited to build bird houses for at risk species.
The aquarium also has a youth employment mandate to train students to build skills for future employment, with volunteers and employees of all ages.
“We make an effort to employ young people, to give them the first job skills that they need,” said Fortin. “It’s not just an impact to tourism, there’s an impact to education in the Alberni Valley, too.”
Anyone interested in getting involved in saving the aquarium can call 250-724-3600 and talk to fundraising manager Colton Nelson.You can also get involved through the Facebook group “Save Our Alberni Aquarium” or by sending letters of support to mayor and council or other government officials.
Fortin, who has been involved with the aquarium since its beginnings, says there is a lot of potential for future partnerships.
“It’s not just an educational centre,” she said. “I’ve seen so many great people come through there. It’s brought me the most amazing connections. It’s really become a special place.”