We’ve been blogging, tweeting away, and working with many in the North and South alike for quite some time now and one of the most common questions we get from those just getting to know us is, why—why is an Aquarium interested in the Arctic? To answer that, we’ll need to fill you in a bit more about the Vancouver Aquarium, who we are and what we do.

Arctic College students from Pond Inlet share perspectives with Vancouver Aquarium staff and volunteers.

The Vancouver Aquarium is well-known for a world-class visitor experience. We host nearly a million visitors a year to our facility in Vancouver, BC. It’s an important part of what we do; as a non-profit charitable association, those visitors are the primary source of funds that support everything else we do. Our exhibits, displays and programs are also powerful ways to create greater awareness and understanding of issues and topics of importance to all of us.

But we are much more than just a single physical location, and Arctic Connectionsis just one example of the depth and breadth that make up who we are as an institution.

Other important examples include the Aquarium’s website which is loaded with informative, educational and engaging content—including this blog! The Aquarium developed and runs the national sustainable seafood program, Ocean Wise; and built and runs the nation’s public engagement and direct action program, The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

We conduct important solutions-focused research on marine mammals, fish and invertebrates, run British Columbia’s Cetacean Sightings Network and the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre; We teach thousands of students of all ages at the Aquarium, and across BC and Alberta with the Aquarium’s BC Hydro Aquavan.

But what we do is perhaps less important than how we do it, and to what end.

Let’s be honest: We all have opinions about the way things should be. That’s healthy and even necessary for true solutions-oriented dialogue. But when opinion becomes dogma, all hope of effective dialogue is lost. We don’t shy away from controvercial topics; instead we recognize that controversy is often the result insuficient understanding of context and perspectives. We believe that a big part of our job is to help our audiences understand the range of perspectives and context that’s often lost in a sea of soundbites and headlines.  Sometimes that means being a safe place for dangerous discussion. It always means favoring dialogue over dogma.

Why the Arctic, specifically?

Canada is an Arctic nation. The need for greater awareness and understanding of Canada’s Arctic and Arctic issues has never been greater–and its importance will continue to grow. Yet Canadians’ understanding of the Arctic is critically lacking. Greater understanding and awareness of Canada’s Arctic requires improved connections and communication between North and South. As the only organization of our kind in Canada with a truly national audience, the Vancouver Aquarium is well-positioned to act as a bridge between southern and northern perspectives, knowledge and ideas.

Arctic Connections was created in response to this need and our recognition of the strong role the Aquarium can play in facilitating respectful solutions-oriented dialogue.

Arctic Connections is built upon 5 foundational principles:

  • The Vancouver Aquarium is committed to creating greater communication, sharing of perspectives and cooperation between Canada’s north and the Aquarium’s national audiences.
  • The environmental issues in the North are inextricably linked to social, cultural, nutritional, economic and political issues; we cannot address environmental issues outside the context of the others.
  • We recognize that we cannot, nor should we, speak on behalf of those living, working and studying in the North. Wherever possible our role must be to open channels of communication that connect our audiences directly with the words and voices of the North.
  • We recognize that with a large, diverse national audience comes tremendous responsibility. The Vancouver Aquarium does not produce position statements; instead, we work to provide a broad range of perspectives that allow our audiences to develop informed opinions about issues that matter to all of us–north and south.
  • We take these responsibilities quite seriously and recognize that it is only through long-term, respectful, mutually beneficial relationships with northern communities, agencies and organizations that we can truly achieve our goal of greater public understanding and more effective national dialogue.

So Arctic Connections is using all the resources at our disposal to enhance important dialogue. For the Vancouver Aquarium, that includes exhibits and on-site programs, school programs, scientific research, online initiatives, and the constant pursuit of new partnerships and programs that create stronger connections between northern and southern Canadians.

If you’ve got questions, comments or perspectives about the North, the South, or creating better connections, we’d love to hear them.

Mother and cub wait for the ice to return.

The environment occurs within environmental, social, political and economic contexts and cannot be discussed apart from them.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s Canada’s Arctic exhibit tries to bring perspectives that aren’t always heard in soundbites and headlines.

Sea ice off Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Loss of ice impacts wildlife, climate and the people who rely on both.

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