From land, it’s easy to look at the ocean as all one entity, but under the surface there are many different ecosystems at play.

A new educational space in the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre gives B.C. students a chance to get hands-on exposure to our distinct underwater environments.

The Betsy and Winslow Bennett Learning Lab, opening this month, features three interactive marine exhibits where students can observe how species interact in different aquatic ecosystems.

Green sea urchins are just some of the creatures common in eel grass garden ecosystems along the B.C. coast.

Green sea urchins are just some of the creatures commonly found in eel grass garden ecosystems along the B.C. coast.

“A lot of the time people see the ocean as a big, flat expanse — almost like a highway,” says Colin Young, manager of school programs for the Vancouver Aquarium. “But there’s a lot going on under the surface; it’s not a highway at all, it’s a forest.” Allowing students to touch animals that are often out of sight from our land-based vantage facilitates a better understanding of our coastal environments, adds Young. And that understanding ultimately leads to better care for underwater ecosystems.

In the new wetlab, students will get a chance to see a living eel grass garden, complete with green sea urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers and other animals, while the rocky outcropping exhibit is home to hermit crabs, sea anemones, juvenile rockfish and more. The sandy bottom environment contains species such as sand dollars, clams and nudibranchs.

Students can see hermit crabs, juvenile rock fish and purple sea urchins in the rocky outcropping exhibit.

Students can see hermit crabs, juvenile rockfish and purple sea urchins in the rocky outcropping exhibit.

Each ecosystem is carefully curated to apply to B.C. school curricula from Kindergarten through Grade 12, said Young, while exhibits have been designed to ensure accessibility for all students, including younger children and those using mobility aids. Throughout the space, murals depict aquatic ecosystems common at greater depths and the impact of pollution on marine life. By relying on imagery rather than text, students get an interactive experience that is inclusive of students who face language barriers. Meanwhile a preparation station at the rear of the lab allows Aquarium staff to demonstrate how they prepare food for the Aquarium’s larger marine species.

Interactive murals allow students to see how marine life is part of our food system.

Interactive murals allow students to see how marine life is part of our food system.

Also new for the Aquarium, the wetlab is fitted with the technology necessary to offer virtual learning programs, so kids across the province — or the country — can access the Aquarium’s educational programming, which is available in English and French.

To learn more about the programs offered at the wetlab, or book a visit go to our Wetlab: Community page.

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