Seafaring moves beneath the surface

The Maritime Museum of B.C. has expanded its mandate from seafaring history

Tatiana Robinson

Tatiana Robinson

In launching its biggest exhibit to date, the Maritime Museum of B.C. has expanded its mandate from seafaring history to include ocean exploration.

Its move to showcase cutting-edge ocean science comes at a good time for both the museum and its exhibit partner.

The museum is keen for a higher profile after recently announcing its intention to pursue a more prominent location on the Inner Harbour. Its partner, Ocean Networks Canada, is also keen to raise its public profile for its world-class underwater observation stations. Called VENUS and NEPTUNE, these systems are located off of Vancouver Island, and employ 800 kilometres of fibre optic cable which brings power and internet access to the depths.

“Everything we do sits on the bottom of the ocean, so it poses a bit of a problem,” said Rick Searle of Ocean Networks Canada. “People say, ‘wow, we hear you’ve got this fantastic facility, can we come tour it?’”

This partnership with the museum provides just that public face, he said. The exhibit, which launched Jan. 12 and runs through August is called What Lies Beneath.

The ocean covers 72 per cent of the earth but less than five per cent of it has been explored, Searle said.

Through a number of censors, cameras, hydrophones and robotic arms, VENUS and NEPTUNE are able to track water salinity, pressure, oxygen and other factors in real time. The purpose is to better understand the ocean, such as whether dead zones, or oxygen deprived zones, are man made or natural.

Oceans are endangered by many different threats, Searle said. “What we need to be focused on is how can we turn this situation around?”

Science is incredibly important, but it must be translated to the general public and to inform public policy, he said.

The exhibit attempts to do more than highlight these research projects, however. It also presents the history of ocean exploration, starting with a reed for breathing below the water’s surface and ending with remotely operated vehicles on the bottom of the ocean.

For viewing is a recovered early dive suit and an Aqua-Lung, the first free-swimming breathing set from the mid nineteenth century.

What we can learn from the past is “that spirit of exploration, wanting to learn about an environment, which as humans were not particularly well suited to stay under water,” said acting curator Tatiana Robinson. “They show the stepping stones to where we are now.”


Mark your calendar

The following lectures take place at the Maritime Museum of B.C. at 28 Bastion Square:

Exploring the Ocean Frontier: We have much to learn. Jan. 25, 7-9 p.m.

Artificial reefs: Paradise or pollution. Feb. 22, 7-9 p.m.