Sidney’s aquarium to make a sea change

Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre to become Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, with focus on the bioregion.

While the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre is changing its name and vision for the future

Sidney’s Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre is changing its name as it embarks on a voyage to rebrand itself to meet a new vision that focuses on education about the wildlife, environment, culture and society in what they’re calling the Salish Sea bioregion.

It’s a change a new board of directors hope will help take the aquarium into the future, yet it’s a return to some of the original ideas and practices the Centre had in place when it opened six years ago.

The new name — Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea — will be officially launched in April, however the work to renovate the interior of the Centre has already begun. Executive Director Mark Loria says the term Salish Sea has really caught on — with BC Ferries using the name on some of its new vessels.

Salish Sea, referring to the ocean surrounding much of southern Vancouver Island, was coined by Dr. Bert Weber, a marine biologist in Washington State. The area is comprised of Puget Sound, the straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia, all the way to Desolation Sound.

Loria said the Sidney centre hopes to become the world leader on all things about the Salish Sea bioregion, a focal point for locals and visitors alike to learn about not only sea life, but the lives of the indigenous people, local culture and the environment — both at sea and on land.

To that end, Loria said the society that operates the centre is changing its focus. They will emphasize education, new exhibits and make a commitment to teach people about the area’s First Nations communities. He added the aquarium will still play a large part of this work and the centre will still be a year-round attraction.

To help the centre reach these goal, Loria said a new board of directors was formed in December. Charles Elliot, a master carver, Order of Canada recipient and Elder from the Tsartlip First Nation is on the board, as is Dr. Andrea Walsh, a visual anthropologist from the University of Victoria. Loria said they will play a big role in advising centre staff on cultural exhibits and educational programs.

Loria said when the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre opened six years ago, it had a strong First Nations contribution.

‘That was part of the initial idea of the place,” he said.

While education has always been a part of the centre’s mandate, Loria said the focus changed over the years as it struggled to keep its head above water.

Making a return to its original mission and expanding the programming, will be expensive — a tall order for a facility that had not balanced its books over its history — until 2015, the first year the centre not only met its budget, but made a surplus.

Loria credited his predecessor, Alison Barratt, for finding efficiencies to help make the surplus possible. Loria himself was hired by Barratt as the centre’s professional fundraiser.

He plans on using that knowledge to help the centre reconnect with Saanich Peninsula residents.

“Expanding our membership program is part of how we will be able to afford all this,” he explained. “We will also be looking for sponsors … for projects, classroom programs, the aquarium tanks, rooms and more.”

It’s an effort to raise more money to help pay for all the changes — which includes a reconfiguring of the Centre itself.

Over February and March, Loria said the gift shop will be moved to the main entrance, creating efficiencies with their admission area. The big submarine doors will, of course, remain, as graphics are expanded throughout the entryway.

The Centre’s Orca whale skeleton has already been moved to hover over the kids’ touch tank — making it more visible.

Other changes include expanding exhibit space, increasing flexible seating space and the development of an entirely new logo.

The official name change and launch of the rebranding effort is tentatively set for April 2. Loria said they are planning a ‘Celebration of the Salish Sea’ event, featuring a free public concert and speakers, such as Dr. Weber. More details of the event will be announced closer to the date itself.

“We have some pretty lofty ambitions,”Loria said. “It’s going to take a lot of work.”

His goal, he said, is to make the centre the focal point of the Salish Sea, reaching locals and tourists alike.