Witnessing an AquaCamper’s “Aha” moment is a big goal for Vancouver Aquarium AquaCamp educators, a goal which comes with an even bigger reward. It’s that moment when campers realize that a small change in their life can make a big difference in conserving aquatic life.

Educators have the pleasure of amazing children with the unique animals that inhabit our world, engage campers through hands on experiments, and inspire them to take action to conserve our aquatic environments. When our camp educator Frankie reflected on her first summer with AquaCamps, she remembered experiencing one of those special “Aha” moments during a trip to the beach for an intertidal exploration.

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AquaCampers take field trips to discover the marine creatures that call our shores home.

Frankie takes us back to that special day:

“The best part about being an AquaCamp educator is hearing the campers gasp and say “Oh, I get it now!” Apart from hands on activities inside the Aquarium, we like to expand our reach by going on an intertidal exploration on the beach. Here the campers truly see all the different types of animals that make up a biodiverse ecosystem. I’ve found thousands of crabs, some sea stars, and the occasional sea urchin while exploring with my campers.

During this one extra special beach walk, two large ochre stars had washed up on the sand and Patrick, a returning AquaCamper, was the first one to notice, and he screamed “FRANKIE A SEA STAR!” Naturally, 20 other campers came rushing over to see the sea star. Patrick knew it wasn’t normal for sea stars to just lie on the sand and was very concerned as to why the sea star was out in the open instead of hiding under a rock. This particular sea star had been an unfortunate victim of Sea Star Wasting Disease – a viral infection that causes sea stars along the west coast of North America to disintegrate and melt. At this point the AquaCampers started yelling out their concerns and asking what they could do to help the poor sea star. Unfortunately, since there is still very little known about the cause of sea star wasting syndrome, I asked them how they thought they could help the sea star and they shouted ‘Recycle!’ and ‘Don’t throw garbage in the water!’ among other mingled suggestions.”

Frankie and her Aquacampers with sea stars dicovered during intertidal exploration.

Frankie and her AquaCampers with sea stars discovered during intertidal exploration. (Patrick is on the right)

Although their suggestions weren’t directly related to helping the wasting sea stars, it was clear that the campers wanted to help conserve all the sea stars in the ocean. The experience opened up a dialogue between Frankie and her campers about all the different challenges, both natural and human related, that animals face day to day. They were able to discuss what small changes every one of us can make in our daily lives to help protect our oceans and the animals who call it home.

As educators we are left at the end of the week wondering if our campers take what they have learned and experienced home to their family and friends. This summer a camper’s mom shared that “[Her] son enjoyed being able to touch and interact with animals/specimens. He also enjoyed learning about marine life and came away with new knowledge. Remarkable for a camp experience.” For Frankie and the rest of our AquaCamp team, it’s the possibility of getting to share those experiences with the campers that get us excited and motivated to come to AquaCamps every day.

AquaBlog post by Nicole Straughan, children’s programs manager at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

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