by Xinya Calhoun
This past September marked my first time volunteering for the Back to the Sea Society. It also marked the first ever public Animal Release Party - and what a turnout! So many families and friends came out to the beach at Point Pleasant Park to give our sea creatures some love and say goodbye to them one last time. It was an amazing experience that I’m sure will live on in everyone’s memories for years to come!
Tons of families and friends came to Point Pleasant Park for the first Animal Release Party!
All Photo Credits: Julie Balasalle
As the Touch Tank Hut season ends each year, the animals have to say farewell to their summer home and return to the ocean. In 2021, we decided to give them an event that everyone could celebrate! Magali (Back to the Sea's Executive Director) and I spent almost an hour carefully packing up all the animals from the 4 tanks - crabs, sea stars, snails, anemones, you name it! We moved them from the tanks into bags of water and then into coolers so they stayed cool and comfy during the trip from the Touch Tank Hut to Point Pleasant Park.
Our awesome staff and volunteers getting ready for the party!
At the beach, we met with other Back to the Sea staff and volunteers. We had lots to do to set up, so it was great to have so many helping hands. Everyone pitched in to unpack, prepare the shell painting station, and get the animals ready to be handed out. Once people began to arrive, the party officially started!
Each participant filled their reusable container with some water from the beach, and then lined up to get some animals! When an animal was chosen to be released, we made a note of it - it was important to keep track of each animal to make sure they all safely got to the ocean. Participants got to touch and hold the animals, and often got to learn some fun facts about them! Then the animals were put in their container and carried to the ocean for the participant to say a final goodbye and release them into the water. Though most of our species were intertidal and were content to be set free in the shallows directly by our participants, there were some animals (our moon snail Otis, for example) who needed to go a bit deeper to be happy. We had two brave snorkelers and an amazing diver swimming in the chilly waters to help make sure those species got far enough away from shore.
A family getting their first animal - a sea star!
We had so many animals to go around that many participants came back after letting their first one go so they could help release even more! Many kids also enjoyed the oyster shell painting station.
Releasing animals back into the water!
This animal release party is unlike anything I’d ever done before. It was hours of learning, sharing, and experiencing new things about marine animals while having lots of fun at the beach. I loved every second of it, and I hope that every visitor had as much fun as I did!
by Magali Grégoire
2017 was another successful year for Back to the Sea! While it was only our second year of operation as a society, we increased our impact exponentially. We participated in more events, recruited multiple volunteers, added to our core team of Board Members and launched our very own miniature marine interpretive centre - the Touch Tank Hut!
Here's a recap of the significant moments of 2017.
As you know, we operate our permanent and portable touch tanks on a seasonal basis. We began and ended the season with partnering events. Kicking off during Oceans Week HFX, we had a great time at The Ocean and You and An Ocean of Discovery events (click on the links to read blog posts from our volunteers). Then, a little later in the summer, we enjoyed a day at the Canadian Sea Turtle kiosk.
1 & 2: Oceans Week event at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. 3: Sea Turtle Network kiosk
The fall kept us just as busy with the You, Me and the Sea program (part of the Sustainable Oceans Conference) and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography Open House - all on the same weekend! Over 22,000 people came through the open house!
We also participated in the Halifax Oyster Festival and had our team members volunteer their time to hand out water to the participants of the Maritime Race Weekend.
1&2: Halifax Oyster Festival. 3: Maritime Race weekend water station.
Sandwiched between all those events is our biggest accomplishment to date, the Touch Tank Hut!
In just five weekends we had over 1,800 visitors!
The Touch Tank Hut is truly proof that you can be mini and mighty all at once.
We are grateful to have captured the interest of visitors, locals and the media with this initiative. See our media page for all Touch Tank Hut coverage.
1: Le Téléjournal Acadie with Radio Canada. 2: Interpreter and Aquarist Leah at the Global studios.
Thank you to the dozens of volunteers who helped make this achievement possible. This includes everyone on our Board, our staff, our Communications Committee, our Advisory Board, our volunteer interpreters and all our friends and family members who got their hands dirty and picked up a paintbrush, collected animals, cleaned, did plumbing, electrical and construction work. It's one long list and are hearts are full!
A huge thank you as well to all those who donated to the cause. Thanks to over 70 contributors, we surpassed our crowdfunding goal and raised $5150!
We are also grateful to our top sponsors and want to give a special shout out to Alderney Landing who donated the use of the space to us.
Thanks to Alderney Landing's continued support, we will be able to open this coming summer!
A VIP visit for Scotiabank employees as a thank you for their top level sponsoship.
That's not all! We are also very happy that our Founder was able to present at the See Change, Tides of Environmental Learning Conference hosted by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication. And finally, we had a blast during our Goodwill Bot event, a fundraiser put on by Good Robot Brewing Co.
Missed last year's Goodwill Bot? Save the date! We're doing it again on Monday May 21st 2018!
Before we sign off, we'd like to introduce you to our newest Board member who joined our team last year, Jonathan Primack. Jonathan is a Project Manager at Noble Grape and a father of two young children who are already among the Touch Tank Hut's number one fans! We're happy to have his energy and passion on our Board.
We would also like to thank Lisanne Jacklin who also joined our Board last year, however had to end her term early due do unforeseen circumstances. We thank her for her contributions and for remaining an important part of our team as our law advisor.
1: Jonathan on the far left helping out with the Maritime Race Weekend. 2: Lisanne with Alderney Landing Executive Director Bea McGregor and Back to the Sea Founder Magali.
Thank you to our founding Board members Maggie, Rodrigo, Courtenay and Greg who have been with us from the start and continue to work on all of Back to the Sea's initiatives, including the eventual construction of a permanent space.
While we remain a Society that is ran in most part with volunteer efforts, we were proud to hire our first staff last year. With Maggie stepping in as Board President, our Founder Magali stepped off the board and was able to take on a new staff leadership position as Executive Director. Leah and Kim were are first Interpreter and Aquarists and did a fantastic job inspiring all our Touch Tank Hut visitors.
From left: Leah, Kim and Magali
Here's to another great year and we look forward to opening our doors and welcoming you to the Touch Tank Hut on June 2nd!
Great experience for kids to see AND respect animals!
- 2017 Touch Tank Hut visitor
by Magali Grégoire
2016 is the year that the Back to the Sea Society was officially born!
I have been slowly working towards the idea of opening a "mini aquarium" in or around Halifax since the start of 2015. I began to spread the word as I worked with my mentor, Founder of the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium, and other advisors to build local relationships and put a plan in place. However, it wasn't until March 2016 that I welcomed my first official Board member, Maggie Sutherland.
Maggie was quickly joined by Courtenay Parlee and, a few months later, we added Greg Sheffer's name the team. Rodrigo Menafra completed our Board of Directors team for 2016 when he joined us in the fall.
These individuals bring to the table an incredible amount of knowledge and, above all, passion! Want to get to know them a little better? Read there bios here.
A huge thank you to these four wonderful people who have been among the first to believe in the proposed Back to the Sea Aquarium. Your hard work has already paid off!
From left: Magali, Maggie, Courtenay and Greg. Not pictured: Rodrigo.
Our biggest accomplishment of 2016 has been the Touch Tanks Days!
We created this event series as a proof of concept for the proposed aquarium. We wanted to obtain community feedback, spread the word and begin our mandate of ocean education.
And it was a huge success!
With a target of 500 visitors, we tripled this goal and saw over 1,500 people of all ages!
Touch Tank Day visitors with volunteers Ronnie and Candace.
We hosted a total of 7 Touch Tank Days, with 5 of them being in Fisherman's Cove. We received extremely positive responses from the surrounding communities, making us confident in our decision to establish the aquarium in this location.
Our thanks to Hope for Wildlife and the organizers of the Sustainable Oceans conference for inviting us along to their events.
Getting some help putting the animals away at the Hope for Wildlife Open House and some curious kids and parents at the You, Me and the Sea program.
Thank you to all the organizations and individuals that helped us in 2016. We look forward to continuing these partnerships and working together in the coming year!
Dalhousie University played an integral part in our Touch Tank Days. After experiencing some delays with our collection permit, John Lindley was able to ensure that we had some animals to show all of those who were anxiously awaiting our touch tanks.
Since we don't yet have a permanent tank system set up, we were able to keep our animals happy between Touch Tank Days thanks to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Paul Fraser set up our holding tank and ensured we could access the animals whenever we needed.
Some behind the scenes - Sometimes this work requires collecting seawater at night! We also need to collect kelp to feed our urchins.
Our Touch Tank Days had a home thanks to Board member Greg, his wife Catherine and their son and daughter in law Scott and Jenna.
It felt so great when we made those first few brush strokes in our signature colour!
It was through the Touch Tank Days that we welcomed our very first F(l)ounders, The Image Salon and Eyes on Optometry. As our first big donors, we will forever be thankful for their support!
Every donation is special and goes a long way, but it's extra meaningful when it comes from your target audience. We strive to inspire and educate young children and, in September, we received their vote of confidence!
After being nominated by 10-year-old Grace, the members of 100 Kids Who Care voted for us as their non-profit of choice. Each child in attendance brought $10 of their hard earned money and we received a donation of over $300.
We had such a wonderful time attending their following meeting in December to publicly thank Grace for her nomination and presentation and to show the kids some sea critters!
We had a blast participating in a few other ocean-themed events in 2016!
In June, I attended the Ocean Literacy Conference: Ocean Optimism and hosted a workshop titled A Catch-and-Release Aquarium for Halifax Metro: Come be Part of the Adventure! It was inspiring to hear what the participants had to say about their relationship to the ocean and how it has changed throughout their lives. I also received many great ideas for our future aquarium!
And last but not least, we wrapped up the year at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Their second annual Family Fun Day was titled Fish out of Water, the perfect event to have our touch tanks! We saw over 350 people at the museum that day!
See our Events page for photos of all the events we attended!
Pier 21's mascot, Fenton, with two of our volunteers, Jessica and Joana (right of Fenton).
We had the chance to both start and end the year with some media coverage!
I did an interview on Mainstreet in January about small-scale aquariums and CTV Morning Live covered the Family Fun Day in December. But no need to go into the details here, we have Media page for that now!
We had a wonderful year and we can't wait to see what 2017 has in store for us!
We'll be working hard on our fundraising efforts to make the Back to the Sea Aquarium a reality (with a goal of opening in June 2018) and we look forward to keeping you up to date with our progress.
Thank you to all our advisors, volunteers, donors and to our consultants Ocean to Eye Level - we could gush about you all day long!
And finally, thank YOU!
Thank you for reading and thank you for your support! Every e-list subscription, Facebook like, Twitter and Instagram follow and touch tank visit makes a difference in this journey.
You've made it clear that you want to see a catch-and-release aquarium in Nova Scotia, and together, we will make that happen!
By Magali Grégoire
If you're following us on Facebook or have browsed this site even a little, you'll know that we plan to launch an event series called Touch Tank Days in the near future. And if you haven't done either of those things, do it now! (Or at least, right after you read this post.)
We're almost ready to launch the Touch Tank Days, but we're still missing one important element - the animals! The little critters we'll be showcasing are still chilling in the ocean for the time being. Why is that? Because we want to do things right, and that includes collecting our animals in a safe and ethical way.
Desta Frey, 2014 Curator of the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium collecting
animals prior to the start of the season.
We've applied for a collection permit that we're hoping will also allow us to release the animals back to the ocean where they were collected from.
This allows for a close to zero environmental impact, the fondation of the catch-and-release philosophy.
In terms of the Touch Tank Days, this means we would like to release the animals at the end of the event series in early October.
A sea star returning to its home! Photo curtesy of the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium.
But what does catch-and-release mean for the proposed Back to the Sea Aquarium and the other "mini aquariums" in Canada?
Due to our East Coast weather, the Back to the Sea Aquarium will have a short season similar to the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium. At this aquarium, all the animals are collected in May so they can be in the exhibits when the doors open in early June. After their summer-long vacation away from predators, they are released in mid-October with the help of local children and families. This is called the Release Party and it's BYOB - Bring Your Own Bucket!
Children handing off an urchin at the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium's 2015 Release Party
Things are a little different on the West Coast. For example, the Ucluelet Aquarium is open from March to December, making for a much longer season. Although this aquarium still hosts a release party at the end of the year, animals are also periodically released and caught throughout the season.
Some of Ucluelet Aquarium's animals being released back to their permanent home.
As soon as we receive our required permits, we'll be hitting the water to collect some animal friends. Can you guess what animals we'll be collecting? Leave your answers in the comments!
By Magali Grégoire
Early in June, I visited Darren Porter's weir fishing operation located on the mudflats of the Minas Basin, located at the end of the Bay of Fundy. Darren is one of the few fishermen still using this ancient technique, one of the oldest known methods of fishing as well as one of the most sustainable. Other than my curiosity and sincere interest in this fishing method, I visited the weir to see if it might be a collection method for the Back to the Sea Aquarium. I discovered that the weir would in fact be a great collection method and that Darren was happy to say he would be willing to help out!
The weir is a fascinating method of fishing! It is approximately 700 meters long and made up of wooden poles about 2 meters in height with netting in between. Shaped as a semi-circle, the fish are directed towards the trap as the water pulls back with the tide. The weir must be harvested twice daily, no matter at what time of the day the low tide occurs. The trap holds mackerel, herring, shad, flounder, skate, squid and will often trap less common fish such as striped bass, sturgeon and dogfish. Darren's daughter Erica, who works the weir, told me her most exciting find was an adorable lumpfish!
Sturgeon being carried out to the pool to be released
This year, it took Darren and his team approximately 100 low tides to build the weir and they will spend over 400 consecutive tides harvesting the fish from May to August before tearing it down. Talk about hard work! Keeping the mackerel, herring, shad, squid and flounders, the other fish caught by the weir's trap get released downstream where they land into a "pond". The fish remain in the pond (except for a few unlucky ones who make a yummy lunch for some bird predators!) until the tide comes back up allowing them to swim away.
The catch-and-release philosophy of the Back to the Sea Society means that we plan to catch all the animals in the spring prior to the opening of the Aquarium and release them all in the fall at the end of the season. The animals will be collected by various methods, including scientific diving, beach seines and with the help of fishermen such as Darren. The weir will be a great opportunity to collect animals that should do well in captivity as they are accustomed to the harsh conditions of the Minas Basin, that is, the huge variation in temperature and salinity that comes from the world's largest tide.
A huge thank you to Darren for allowing me to spend the afternoon with him and his team observing the workings of the weir and to Matt Grégoire who organized the trip for me and took me out to Bramber!
Navigate through the slideshow below to see more pictures from this day out in the field!