The word “airport” is enough for some palms to get sweaty and heads to get dizzy. After all, the stress of going through security and catching a flight can be too much for some people. But amid the hustle and bustle of YVR airport’s international departures terminal stands a massive exhibit that offers tranquility to all who pass by. The exhibit, which has been operated by the Vancouver Aquarium for five years this week, showcases the magical underwater world of a kelp forest.

Vancouver Aquarium staff have had to come up with some magic of their own to recreate this diverse ecosystem in the airport terminal – it takes a lot of imagination and time to construct a natural oasis in the middle of an airport food court! A network of bright lights behind the scenes helps create that sun-dappled kelp forest look, while a series of pumps provide realistic currents, mimicking the surge a wave makes as it crashes on to shore. The animals and plants, which were collected by staff in the Pacific Ocean just beyond the airport, add movement and colour to this towering exhibit.

A roomful of pipes and pumps keeps the YVR Feature exhibit “alive”

What travellers won’t see as they pass by is the maze of pipes and pumps two floors down, which act as the heart of the exhibit. Vancouver Aquarium staff spend much of their time in this gigantic room testing the water quality and preparing food for the animals. Then, if it’s a dive day, they’ll head back to the main exhibit, donning their cold-water gear for a thorough cleaning of the exhibit. Sometimes it will just be a matter of scrubbing the acrylic window free of algae in order to provide a better view; other times the divers will siphon (which is like underwater vacuuming) the grate leading to a major pipe before too much sludge accumulates.

People rushing to catch their flights may regrettably merely glance at this exhibit, while those with a little more time may enjoy watching the kelp fronds wave lazily in the current. Either way it’s there, sending off visitors with one last impression of the natural beauty in B.C.

Travellers coming into Canada may see a smaller jelly exhibit in one of the arrivals passageways.

Have you seen either of the Aquarium’s exhibits at YVR? What was your impression of them?

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