Sea change for Sidney’s aquarium

From physical transition to philosophical ones, the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea takes on new challenges.

Sidney's Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea is diving into new depths.

The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, formerly known as the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, underwent big change last year.

Executive Director for the Centre Mark Loria brought the District of Central Saanich up to speed Monday night on their name change and mission change. As a not-for-profit organization, they rely on admission, sponsorship and donations to remain sustainable. With their new name, comes a lot of other changes.

“What’s different for us now is we’re not just talking about fish and marine life in the ocean, we’re actually talking about all of wildlife, the ecosystem, culture and people,” said Loria, adding they are moving to become an aquarium and cultural centre. With 3,500 animals, their main dedication is learning.

The Centre sees 80,000 visitors a year, including 10,000 students and they deal with most of the schools in the region.

“We think this change elevates our status provincially, nationally. We’re the only centre for the Salish Sea anywhere right now so we can make a big impact even though we used to be that small aquarium in Sidney. We have a much broader reach.”

They have also made a few physical transitions, including moving their store to the front of the aquarium.

“We have a mandate for our store to include only things that are produced or made in the Salish Sea, 50 per cent of the products being indigenous.”

The Centre has also been doing updates to their aquarium systems and are developing a membership program.

They released their strategic plan together last year and have been working on it ever since.

“We want to become the best place to experience the Salish Sea.”

They also want to increase the visitor experience and have added Coast Salish art and stories.

“We are working on contributed revenue as well — so sponsorships and donors,” he said, adding they are also trying to secure capital funding.

The Centre has created partnerships, including the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Parks Canada. This summer, Parks Canada will bring in two interpreters to talk about the Gulf Islands.

With over 130 volunteers, the Centre hosts events and festivals — from World Oceans Day to summer camps for children. They started a youth summer volunteer program last year to get even more volunteers involved.

Loria said they are updating their membership admission fees.

“For the first we’ll have a family membership for $75, which is a great deal. It’s four adults and four children.”

“I really appreciate the new direction and having hosted an event there and being a participant in events there, I can’t speak highly enough of what a great place it is and how well we were treated,” said Councillor Alicia Holman

“I enjoyed it as the Shaw Ocean Discovery (Centre) and I look forward to taking my young ones there as the new Centre for the Salish Sea,” said Mayor Ryan Windsor.