Ocean sciences aquarium in rural Newfoundland supported by Memorial
Artist Cathy Driedzic's rendering of a proposed marine aquarium on the Bonavista Peninsula.
By Kelly Foss
A proposal by the tiny town of Champney's West to develop a public marine aquarium and touch tank is receiving substantial support from Memorial University.
Dr. Bill Driedzic, a professor in the Department of Ocean Sciences and the Canada Research Chair in Marine Bioscience, has had a summer home in the community for nearly a decade. Town members approached him a little over a year ago to help put together the initial proposal.
"Champney's West is a small community on the Bonavista Peninsula, about 70 kilometres from Clarenville," said Dr. Driedzic. "It's a one road community that has about 65 permanent residents and 30 summer residents and there are no commercial enterprises in the community.
"This proposal is for a small aquarium for the community – a facility small enough that it can be operated by the local people."
The marketing and business plan for the Champney's West Marine Aquarium says the objective of the facility is to strengthen the community infrastructure, and in doing so, improve the economic development capacity while enhancing visitor experience.
The aquarium will include four large viewing tanks and a touch tank and will be open to the public from June until October annually, engaging four seasonal employees.
"The 50-foot by 30-foot building will be a basic clapboard structure that would fit in with the community architecture," explained Dr. Driedzic. "In addition to the viewing tanks and touch tank there would be shelving units for selling marine biology-related souvenirs and craft items and a closed off area where we would keep the nuts and bolts of the operation."
The Champney's West Heritage Group, an incorporated body that already operates a museum within the community, would own the facility.
"The aquarium would be a living extension of the museum," said Dr. Driezic. "The museum has artifacts that show how people used to live and the aquarium makes the intellectual connect – here are the fish, and the museum has the tools that were used to catch the fish."
In-kind and financial support has already been pledged in principal by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. As well, the proposal has been pre-reviewed by both the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Government of Canada, and the Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, but the official approvals have yet to come.
"The financial ask to ACOA is about $60,000 and $40,000 to the provincial government," said Dr. Driedzic. "In addition, we've already received about $25,000 worth of viewing tanks from Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrew's, N.B. They will be stored in Champney's West until we're ready to use them."
Memorial University has also pledged more than $27,000 in in-kind contributions through the Department of Ocean Sciences. The department will provide the facility with a touch tank and additional tanks, professional consultation to develop the facility and dealing with aspects such as building design, displays and specialized salt water plumbing, as well as dry and preserved specimens. Ongoing support will cover professional consultation, training of staff members, specimen collection and holding those specimens over the winter period when the facility is closed.
"I anticipate the department will continue to be a partner long past the initial set-up period," said Dr. Garth Fletcher, head/director of ocean sciences at Memorial.
Dr. Driedzic adds that if the applications to ACOA and the provincial government are successful, there will still need to be a fundraising drive to match those funds.
"It's a $300,000 set-up," he said. "So, beyond the money and in-kind contributions already committed, they will need to find an additional $100,000. For a small town that's huge. The university and its supporters are going to need to step up to the plate and help them with that as well."
Danielle Nichols, research marketing manager for the Department of Ocean Sciences, is responsible for their public education program and outreach initiatives. It normally includes an outdoor touch tank at the Logy Bay facility, but for the past two summers it has become a travelling road show while the site is closed for ongoing construction.
She has been working with Dr. Driedzic.
"Given the amount of people who enjoyed our little touch tank on the road, if you have a building people can walk in and out of for a very small charge, they will do it," she said. "It's another aspect of our public education program that is helping the community engage people in science.
"In addition, we're also getting the chance to showcase Memorial University as an educational institute these young people might like to attend in the future, and the economic benefits from the facility are going back into the community and surrounding areas. It's win-win for everybody."