Amira Strain, the new manager of the Alberni Aquarium, kneels beside the aquarium’s salmon tank. The aquarium is currently holding a contest to name the salmon. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Amira Strain, the new manager of the Alberni Aquarium, kneels beside the aquarium’s salmon tank. The aquarium is currently holding a contest to name the salmon. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Vancouver Island aquarium struggles to stay afloat

Shift in leadership occurred just before pandemic hit

Port Alberni’s aquarium is still struggling to stay afloat through the coronavirus pandemic.

The aquarium has been struggling since early March, when the former board announced that fundraising efforts had not been enough to sustain the organization into 2020. Since that announcement, a new non-profit Alberni Aquarium Association took over the aquarium.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated matters.

“With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have been facing a little bit of financial issues,” aquarium manager Amira Strain explained during a meeting of Port Alberni city council on Monday, Nov. 23. With the recent rise in cases, she said, the aquarium has seen a “drastic decrease” in visitors, and the the doors were closed to the public at the end of November.

With the doors closed, the aquarium is now focusing on virtual tours.

“We’ve developed virtual tours for school groups, homeschooled children and people who want to learn a little bit more about the animals in our ocean,” Strain explained in a later interview. “It’s a new way to keep the aquarium in the school curriculum.”

With these tours, Strain will hold a video conference with visitors where she goes over the animals in all the aquarium’s tanks. Using a grant from 100+ Women Who Care earlier this year, the aquarium was able to create a new exhibit titled “The Small Things,” which takes a look at the different natural biomes locally.

But because the association is a new society, they have had difficulties applying for grants and other sources of funding.

Strain asked city council in November for a rent freeze on their city-owned building at Harbour Quay.

“We have been looking at our books, and if we don’t receive help from the city, we will not be able to continue to be in business past December,” Strain told council.

However, council pointed out that other businesses in the community are struggling during the pandemic, too.

“It’s really hard for me to give that kind of support, when there’s existing businesses in the same situation,” said Councillor Cindy Solda.

“Before we consider any direct subsidies, I think that we have to encourage you to apply to the federal programs first, just to keep a level playing field,” said Mayor Sharie Minions. “I think we all want to see the aquarium be successful, we just have to make sure that we are diligent with the limited funds that we do have.”

The aquarium association is now applying to the federal government for COVID-19 rental relief, and Strain is working with city staff to release the aquarium’s upstairs space in order to cut monthly rental rates. The space is currently unused, except for storing the aquarium’s saltwater resevoir.

In the meantime, the aquarium association has found a few creative ways to fundraise.

Earlier this month, the aquarium held a raffle to name the building’s newest residents—an axolotl, gunnel fish and salmon.

An online auction is currently taking place on the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre Facebook page. Bidders can place their bids by commenting on the items up until Saturday, Dec. 19 at midnight.

Wooden Christmas ornaments made by a local family are available at Animal Ark, with proceeds going towards the aquarium, as well as Special Olympics and the SPCA.

The aquarium is always accepting tank sponsors. It also offers an “Adopt a Salmon” program and an Alberni Aquarium Cookbook was launched this summer, with funds going towards the new association.

For more information about how you can contribute, visit www.alberniaquarium.ca or call 250-724-3600.

“We’re hoping to be able to open in the new year,” said Strain. “It depends how the pandemic is looking and if we survive until then. We’re hoping to get a source of money coming in so we can continue to be able to feed our animals.”



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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