A Decade of Giving

Salish Sea News: A Decade of Giving (Originally published in Seaside Magazine, July 2019. Read it here: https://issuu.com/seasidetimes/docs/seaside0719forwebsite)

By Tina Kelly –

Ten years or a decade – either way you state it – that’s a long time. In 2009, a five-year plan came together when the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre* officially opened its doors with a kelp-ribbon cutting on June 20. Close to 800 visitors flooded through the submarine doors every day that first summer. Keeping the guests engaged with exciting exhibits was the job for a team of committed “Oceaneers,” the marine-inspired label for Centre volunteers. Ten years on, some of those original Oceaneers continue to give.

Spearheading the volunteer program back in 2008 was Beth Watkins. Beth was employee number one, the Community Coordinator hired by founding Executive Director, Angus Matthews. After many years, and a variety of roles, Beth retired in 2017. But, missing the vibrant atmosphere, animals and enthusiastic staff and volunteers, Beth became a volunteer herself! Once a week Beth spends time in the Aquarist Department, feeding the fish.

Beth brought along two special friends – Mikes and Marlies – when she joined the Centre. Over the years, Mikes P. has volunteered in many capacities, both onsite and off, supporting evening events, feeding the exhibits, and assisting with collecting trips and the youth program. She says the latter, staying connected with young people, is a major perk of volunteering. With 2,793 volunteer hours under her belt, Mikes describes the Centre as a home away from home and credits her time at the centre for enriching her life and having a positive influence on her own environmental footprint.

Marlies W. enjoys people and loves to roam through the exhibits where she can pass along her knowledge and insight to visitors. Although Marlies feels a pressing urgency to educate others over concern for the environment, she always does so with a welcoming, calm, kind approach. While she enjoys connecting with all guests, Marlies feels it is extra special to highlight our Salish Sea bioregion for visitors from landlocked regions.

Another long-time volunteer who deserves a mention is Jill S. With a science background and strong environmental ethics, Jill was drawn to volunteering when her move to North Saanich coincided with the Centre’s opening. Jill’s early days were spent educating visitors throughout the galleries but now she arrives at the Centre bright and early to harvest and prepare plankton for hungry fish and invertebrates. Using some of her other skills, Jill has occasionally taken on special projects – constructing a wood interactive interpretive display, creating a salmon lifecycle activity and sewing a cover for our plankton towers.

With all of these volunteers, a common theme emerges reflecting their motivations for staying involved. Not only do they share a genuine interest in marine life and lifelong learning, they stress friendships and giving back to the community as reasons to maintain their connection to the Centre.

When asked about her 10 years with the Centre, Beth responded: “The volunteers have always been a huge part of the experience and I am proud to have been involved.” The Centre is truly indebted to all of the volunteers dedicating time and energy to the organization, but there is a special warm and fuzzy sense of gratitude for those who have been with us for a decade.

*Now the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea

Interested in volunteering? Visit salishseacentre.org for more details. Interested in visiting? The Centre is open daily at 10 a.m.

My Salish Sea Summer: In the End

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My Salish Sea Summer: In the End



by Rachel Rickaby

For one week in August I had the chance to co-lead summer camp with the Centre’s Camp Leader, Kennedy! During Salish Sea School, kids ages 7-11 explore beaches, cruise on boats, create marine-themed crafts and play games. To say I had fun is an understatement. It was such a lovely group of campers who were all eager to learn and explore.

In an earlier blog post about my experience facilitating school programs, I mentioned the importance of staying on your toes while teaching kids. Camp—which takes place primarily outside—takes this to the extreme. You never know how a group of campers will interact with each other or the environments we venture into. Kennedy informed me each week of summer camp so far has been a wildly different experience, so ‘going with the flow’ is a necessity. 

Unlike school groups, where we engage students for an hour, campers are in our care for five days. It was really nice to get to know each camper and watch them bond with each other as the week went by.

On the first day, the campers spent the morning exploring the aquarium, playing games and getting to know each other. By the afternoon we headed to the marina for our ‘dock walk’, where we got the chance to peer over the edges of the docks and look for critters. It was exciting to witness their joy and cool discoveries. I too was excited by cool discoveries!

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Over the next few days, campers experienced crafts, beach walks, a squid dissection, and a trip to Portland Island in our nearby National Park, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve! They even explored ‘behind the scenes’ at the aquarium and learned about the job of an Aquarist!

We ended off the week by spending a day on Sidney Spit. For me this was definitely a highlight. The day was full of play, creativity and exploration. We built sandcastles, caught flatfish, played ‘princesses’ and learned about jellyfish.

What started as a group of shy kids on Monday, turned into a very silly, extroverted group by Friday. There were new friends made and new creatures discovered. It was rewarding to be a part of their week.

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Summer camp critter finds: lion's mane jelly, sea hare, sea lemon, sea squirt.

To wrap up the summer, I want to share some of my top biology WOW moments from working at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea.

  1. Finding out urchins can eat crab shells and poop out sand

  2. Learning octopus shed the skin on their suction cups and seeing Billie shed hers several times over the summer

  3. Watching baby gunnels hatching (see My Salish Sea Summer—In the beginning, June 21, 2018, for the video)

  4. Collecting 220 cigarette butts along the sidewalk and beach right out front of the centre (in only 15 minutes!!)

  5. Witnessing a sea cucumber spawning (see video below)

  6. Watching a shaggy mouse nudibranch climb onto a bay pipefish and ride around the exhibit

  7. Discovering sea otters can eat octopus

  8. Researching all of the Coast Salish First Nations uses for seaweeds

  9. Learning a great blue heron is the size of a 5 year old child

  10. Finding out octopus eyes work like a camera lens

Overall, this has been an amazing summer co-op term! When I first applied for this job I had no idea what working here was going to be like. I never expected to meet so many amazing and inspiring people. From my coworkers, to the volunteers and aquarium guests.

The centre has allowed me to grow so much in just 4 months. I feel confident in my ability to communicate science to a variety of audiences and confident in myself as a soon-to-be biologist.

I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for all that the centre has done for me. Looking back at all the experiences I have had over the summer, I see how lucky I am to have been here.

Now, back to school...

Amendment: We are delighted to announce Rachel will be staying on with us part-time. 

My Salish Sea Summer: Seaweed Central

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My Salish Sea Summer: Seaweed Central


By Rachel Rickaby


Recently, I started an exciting project—to use my knowledge from university and combine it with what I have learned on-the-job to create seaweed education resources. It began with an idea to create a new presentation about seaweeds in the Salish Sea and has since branched out in many directions!

I am researching some of the most common local seaweeds and seagrasses, along with their traditional uses by Coast Salish First Nations. Once I collect enough information, I will create a formal talk about seaweeds—similar to our octopus presentation—as well as have other seaweed-themed activities. We aim to have seaweeds in the centre for visitors to touch and learn about.

To begin, I headed out with fellow Educator, Aneka, and explored a nearby beach looking for seaweeds! We found many intriguing species—most of which I had learned about in a course at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre! Aneka had never seen many of them before and it was fun to teach a coworker about a topic I have become passionate about.

Above left to right: Turkish Towel (Mastocarpus spp.), Rockweed (Fucus distichus), Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) and Sea Lettuce (Ulva spp.), and Sea Noodles (Sarcodiotheca gaudichaudii).

On July 14, I had the chance to share my newfound seaweed knowledge at the CRD's Marine Day at Witty’s Lagoon. Arriving early we collected a variety of seaweeds—similar to what we want to have at the centre—for people to touch and learn more about them. On the beach, we helped identify creatures and taught people about beach biodiversity. 

This experience gave me a ‘taste’ of outreach and outdoor education. It was a fun challenge explaining topics and identifying species we don’t see every day in the aquarium. Curious people passing by allowed me to practice mini seaweed talks throughout the day.

We received a lot of questions about both traditional and common uses of seaweeds. Most people were surprised to learn almost all seaweeds in the Salish Sea are edible—although some may taste better than others! One man started munching on a blade of seaweed as soon as I said it was edible, which was pretty awesome!

CRD Parks Marine Day at Witty's Lagoon Regional Park

CRD Parks Marine Day at Witty's Lagoon Regional Park

Learning more about Coast Salish First Nations has been a very rewarding experience. When I began this co-op work term and I mentioned to my supervisor I would love to learn more about Coast Salish cultures, she went ahead and gave me the freedom to do so with this side-project and I am very grateful.

In a biology degree, there is little opportunity to explore First Nations culture and traditions. However, it is important to recognize that First Nations culture is a key part of Canada and incorporating traditional ecological knowledge into our scientific knowledge gives us a more complete view of the natural world.

If you want to learn more about seaweeds come by the aquarium soon to touch and learn about some local seaweed species, or just come talk to me! I am always excited to share what I’ve learned about the weeds of the sea!

Update: Since Rachel's blog post was completed, she has hosted a drop-in touch and learn table with seaweeds collected from Sidney's Glass Beach and re-purposed some of those seaweed samples into specimens for our Microscope Monday feature. Seaweed is also cool when magnified!

My Salish Sea Summer Episode 2.0


Episode 2.0

The Centre runs school programs for children in kindergarten through grade 11; each program centered on concepts found in the BC school curriculum. These field trips disguise learning as fun (Shh, don’t tell the kids!) through hands-on activities and games. The school year has ended and I’d like to share with you a few things I realized while teaching students.

First, teaching is nothing like I expected it would be. There is no perfect recipe for the ideal lesson because the ingredients—the students—differ in so many ways. Every time I teach it is different and I’ve come to appreciate every group of students is unique. You have to be willing to adjust to meet their needs and keep everyone engaged. And I need to accept not everything will go exactly as planned and having a script just won’t work.

This was particularly evident during a Pacific herring dissection! We witnessed every possible reaction possible that day—from the class of 26 grade 6’s—with facial expressions ranging from delight to disgust. I saw:

  • Eyes wide
  • Eyes closed
  • Eyes covered with hands
  • Eyes peering through splayed fingers
  • Eyes looking down/away/at anything but the fish
  • Eyes looking closely through a magnifying glass at the fish body parts
  • Backs turned
  • Mouths agape
  • Mouths covered
  • Noses plugged
  • Noses heavily sniffing fish parts
  • Running from the room

This is especially true about teaching outside! We never know what we will find during a beach exploration (including strange garbage—spark plugs and a broken golf club!) and this keeps you on your toes. It also gives you an opportunity to inform the kids of some of the troubles our oceans are facing, like plastic pollution and garbage on the beach. It opens their eyes and may inspire them to help make things better.


We found a blood star...


...and lots of trash.

Secondly, since taking on this teaching role of educator I have a newfound respect for the teachers I had growing up. Teaching is all about multitasking! Not only must you maintain everyone's attention, but you also must teach the required material in a fun and captivating way, while sticking to a time schedule. I had these kids for an hour—school teachers manage this for an entire school day!

Finally, I have learned kids say some pretty amazing things! They speak their minds and have both the hardest questions and funniest responses. Kids often express exactly how they are feeling, especially if they are bored! They question things adults often accept as true. And above all else, kids say some pretty hilarious things. Often so ‘out there’ I’m not even sure how to respond.

During Adventures of a Crab, a program for preschoolers, I’ve had some entertaining conversations.

After I explained how crabs use their claws to eat, a young boy put his hand up.

Me: “Is this a question or a comment?”

Boy: “Question.”

Me: “Ok, go ahead.”

Boy: “When I eat crab I like to dunk it in lots and lots of butter!”


Me: “What do you guys think crabs eat?”

Girl: “Allergies?”

Me: “....Good guess, but no.” 

Overall, teaching is a blast! While there are definitely challenging days, there are many more enjoyable ones! I have learned about the teaching process, taught about sea creatures, and shared my love for the ocean with countless kids. As a marine biology student, there is nothing more fun than that!

My Salish Sea Summer—In the beginning...


My Salish Sea Summer:


In the beginning...

by Rachel Rickaby (photos and videos by Rachel Rickaby)

My name is Rachel and I am excited to be spending my summer as an Educator at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea! I am a 4th year Marine Biology Co-op student at the University of Victoria. The co-op program allows me to test out different biology-related jobs for 4 month intervals. This gives me the opportunity to explore an array of positions and gain experience before I graduate.

As a Summer Educator, I am responsible for a wide variety of tasks, but primarily I will be teaching visitors of all ages about the incredible biodiversity of the Salish Sea. This includes school groups, from kindergarten to grade 12, as well as presentations for the general public about our local species. Growing up I couldn't have imagined a job where I'd be presenting in front of large audiences. I've definitely been wary of public speaking! But here I am, taking the plunge (pun intended!).

I have often wondered what it would be like to work at an aquarium and I have not been disappointed! There is always something new to learn and exciting to see. I am proud to declare I discovered a mosshead warbonnet had laid eggs in our eelgrass exhibit! The warbonnet was camped out in an empty barnacle fanning the eggs with her tail, circulating water over them to keep the eggs healthy.

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Her eggs were then tended by our Aquarists. Eye spots appeared and the young fish began moving around in their eggs.


A few days later I witnessed the hatching of penpoint gunnel eggs! My favourite part of that experience was getting to share it with so many aquarium visitors. Throughout the day we watched with anticipation as each new egg hatched, each one dodging the hungry rockfish.

Babies that swam up near the surface were scooped up by an Aquarist and are now living in our animal care room. They will remain there until old enough to fend for themselves. If we are lucky, we may see some of the baby gunnels in our exhibits soon.

Within the first few weeks of working at the centre I already feel at home. I am excited to see what the rest of the summer holds; stay tuned for more about me and my Salish Sea Summer!