As a diver, I have always enjoyed visiting the aquarium. It is a great chance for me to view the marine animals that I love without the going through the hassle of donning complicated dive gear. So when Surfrider Vancouver Island was looking for a volunteer to go check out their new display at the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea I jumped on the opportunity. Little did I know, that I had timed my visit for the middle of spring break! As soon as I entered the aquarium I was almost run down by groups of excited school kids bouncing from one display to another and pressing their noses right up against the glass so they could get the good look at the octopus, wolf eels and beautiful schools of rock fish swimming amongst the kelp.

 I quickly spotted the Surfrider banner prominently displayed between the moon jellies and a large cylindrical tank of plumose anemones. The display explains the huge problem that is created by plastic debris entering the marine environment. “Each year, plastic is killing over 1 million seabird & 100,000 mammals and sea turtles who mistake it for food.” Right next to the display is a tank of moon jellies pulsing in the current, beside them is a tank of “plastic jellies” (plastic bags) to show how similar they look floating in the water. I have always found that when you are trying to convince someone to care about an environmental cause you will have the best reaction of showing them how beautiful it is at the same time as you clearly demonstrate the hazards that are challenging it’s survival.  As a diver, I have seen the damage that plastics and other garbage does to our marine ecosystem and not just at the surface and on the beaches but under the water as well. This is not something that most people have experienced. The aquarium has really captured the essence of this problem with their displays of beautiful marine life right next to informative displays and demonstrations about the hazards facing these animals.

 Surfrider has led the charge against plastics entering our marine environment. From local and remote beach cleanups to their campaigns to ban single use plastic bags. They are one of the few organizations that is tackling the problem both with physical activities to remove plastics from our marine environment (Combing the Coast Program) and working on changing the policies at the source of the problem (Rise Above Plastics Program). They are a great organization of dedicated volunteers from many walks of life that have seen incredible results over the last few years. Standing in the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea, I was able to see many other passionate volunteers that make the aquarium the magical place that it is.  It is wonderful to see a supportive partnership between these two organizations. In my opinion, non-for-profit organizations working together towards a cause is the true path to change in our world!

 As I stood in front of the Surfrider display snapping a few pictures and watching the groups of school kids pass by, I was overjoyed to see them stop and remark about how sad it was to think about the beautiful marine animals they had just seen being hurt by plastic garbage in our oceans. Hopefully, with the good work being done by Surfrider and the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea, future generations will grow up learning to respect and protect our oceans.

– Lyle Berzins

The display will be up through the summer, so check it out! For more info about the aquarium, please visit their website. https://www.salishseacentre.org