From working at an aquarium to founding an aquarium. It’s quite the leap, but for former Vancouver Aquarium employee Melanie Knight, it’s been a dream five years in the making.
Melanie first thought of the idea of an aquarium in St. John’s, Newfoundland when she was going to school there. Originally from Ontario, Melanie moved to the east coast to study marine biology at Memorial University. She eventually made her way out west to work at the Vancouver Aquarium.
While working at the Vancouver Aquarium, she became involved with the creation of the Ucluelet Aquarium on Vancouver Island. Though she kept busy, she never forgot her desire to start an aquarium in St. John’s. Thinking ahead, she started gaining experience in animal care and volunteerism while at the Vancouver Aquarium, knowing that she would need these skills should she ever really get this aquarium idea off the ground. Despite her expanding knowledge, Melanie knew she would need someone with even more animal care expertise to help her out in this endeavor. Enter Ruby Banwait.
Ruby is a biologist at the Vancouver Aquarium, but come this summer, she’ll be the curator at the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium. It’s an opportunity she never dreamed of, judging by the way she and Melanie recount the story. As Ruby tells it, “I said, what can I do to help you out? And she said, want to be my curator? And then we both laughed about it. But then I was like, yeah…”
That was a year and a half ago. Ruby is now in the midst of packing for her six month stint in St. John’s. But Aquarium watchers, do not fret. She’ll be back here when the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium closes for the season in the fall.
In the meantime, Ruby and Melanie will dive the coastal waters of Newfoundland to collect animals for display. The animals were actually a point of concern for Melanie: “I thought, are any of these animals actually cool enough to show?” she says with a chuckle. But when they went diving in September 2012 to do some prep work, they found out that yes, these animals are most definitely cool enough to show.
Both Melanie and Ruby say they’ll be relying heavily on the expertise they gained at the Vancouver Aquarium to help them guide their way. While Melanie worked as an interpreter and a volunteer coordinator, she also volunteered with the biologists to learn about animal husbandry. Ruby, meanwhile, is picking her colleagues’ brains to help with the logistical planning.
The Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium, just outside of St. John’s, will house 30 exhibits in 800 square feet (74 square metres) of space. The building was originally a fishermen’s co-op fish plant, and has sat empty since the cod moratorium in 1992. Melanie says they really couldn’t have chosen a better location: it’s pre-plumbed and there’s already seawater coming into the building.
With things falling into place, Melanie is living her biggest dream. The Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium opens on June 15th and will run until October 19th (when all the animals will be released back into their natural habitat). But Melanie said she had another dream the other night: “There’s a line-up out the door on opening day and Great Big Sea is playing.”
Melanie, you now know that dreams can come true, so dust off those dancing shoes!