It’s not a big facility, nor is it the most impressive on the planet. It pales in comparison to the likes of the huge public aquariums in Vancouver or Monterey, California. But the brand spanking new Alberni Aquarium at Port Alberni’s waterfront Harbour Quay is nonetheless a great educational resource and a massive hit with the younger set.
Opened just this summer, the Alberni Aquarium was conceived and executed by the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association. The group has been in existence since 2002 and is comprised of private citizens interested in preserving, protecting and enhancing aquatic species and their habitats.
The Alberni Aquarium, as previously mentioned, is not a large facility. But it is teeming with life (both human and animal) from the moment you walk in the door. There are several tanks set up that exhibit a large variety of colourful/gorgeous/ugly underwater creatures. Above them are large screens depicting many aspects of marine life. I was mesmerized by the video depicting the full life cycle of a salmon – a species so populous in the waterways of Vancouver Island that it behoves everyone to learn about it, appreciate it and try to protect it.
The best part of the Alberni Aquarium, however, are the squeals of delight from all the youngsters who come through the doors. No matter where I was in the building I encountered excited comments, wondrous gazes and the occasional squeamish remark as the kids toured the various exhibits.
One of the best installations involved a tank with a glass bubble rising in its midst. Small people can easily pop in under the tank and come up in the bubble for a fish-eye view of the world. It was very cool, and a big hit with the youngsters. It made me wish I was small enough and agile enough to enjoy the experience as well.
Around the final corner of the Alberni Aquarium is a large work table for aquatic-related crafts, and the source of many of the ‘eeeews’ from the kids – the touch tanks. Various species have been put in easily-reachable tanks (little footstools also supplied for those of the shortest stature) and aquarium visitors are welcome to gently handle and examine a cornucopia of aquatic creatures.
One Mom I spoke to had just purchased a full year’s membership ($25), enthusing about what a great outing the Alberni Aquarium would be for her and her daughter when the rainy season arrives. The Alberni Aquarium is a fitting addition to the Port Alberni waterfront, where fishing and other waterborne activities have dominated for virtually the entire history of the Alberni Valley. And affordable recreation (entry fees are $5 a person, kids under 5 get in free) is a definite plus in a town that for years has suffered from a downturn in its lifeblood industries. Kudos to the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association for its vision and dedication – hopefully the exposure to such a magical world will inform and enthuse. Maybe it will even spawn a new generation of marine biologists or environmental advocates – a happy thought.
More information on the Alberni Aquarium can be found at the website:
The Alberni Aquarium is located at #7, 5440 Argyle Street, at Harbour Quay.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.234858 Long. -124.815521
N 49 14.091 W 124 48.931