Most marine animals are so very different from you and I that even the most imaginative human mind would be humbled by the diversity of body shapes, structures and life styles that exist in our waters. I remember looking at the critters on the underwater wall at Whytecliff Park in my early years as a scuba diver, and thinking to myself, “I wonder what that is? I would really love to know what all of these animals are, what they do, and how they interact with each other.” Now that I’m a marine ecologist, I’m still left with far more questions than answers. The process of learning and asking questions is fun and rewarding, and you don’t have to be a marine scientist to participate. Engaging people in citizen science is one of the best aspects of my job. When we teach people how to identify marine life, we get to introduce them to the same wonder and amazement we feel when we’re underwater.
When the Howe Sound Research team decided to run a Citizen Science Diver and Fish ID course last fall, we got more than we bargained for. While we were aiming to provide a fun and informative series of workshops for the public, we didn’t realize that the instructors and staff would find the course as enjoyable as the students! We were truly floored by the enthusiasm that divers and other outdoor enthusiasts had for getting involved in marine research. Many outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the challenge of having a task when they’re underwater or at the beach, and find it rewarding to contribute to scientific knowledge. It’s truly a great feeling when someone tells you that learning about marine life renewed their love of being outdoors. By working from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation curriculum we get to connect participants to an international community of citizen scientists. We also get to build on the this program and show people how they can make a meaningful contribution to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre’s local research programs.
For this year’s course, we’re focusing on the marine life of Howe Sound. There’s nothing better than getting people excited about the diversity of life that exists in our own backyard. There are over 700 marine species living in Howe Sound, many of them very different than the species found on the outer coast and other areas of B.C. Howe Sound is home to some unique habitats such as the glass sponge reefs that exist shallower here than any other place on Earth that we know of! I think people make a special connection with the animals they see close to home, and learning more about local species encourages a sense of responsibility to take care of and conserve the animals with which we share our environment.
We are eagerly anticipating the Fish and Invertebrate ID course, which starts September 21, 2105. Sign up today before the space is sold out. We hope to see you there!
Blog post by Jessica Schultz, research coordinator for the Howe Sound Research Program at the Vancouver Aquarium and an instructor for the Fish And Invertebrate Identification course.