Exploramer: Our Biodiversity at the End of the Dock
In the Haute-Gaspésie, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, the Exploramer museum, dedicated to marine ecosystems, offers an abundance of activities for children and adults alike.
“We’re raising awareness about conservation of the St. Lawrence River. People still only know about small parts of the St. Lawrence when there is an ocean of potential knowledge,” says Exploramer’s Executive Director, Sandra Gauthier, who returned to Québec for a contract 17 years ago and ended up never leaving the Gaspésie region.
A museum, aquariums and sea excursions
Sitting next to the river, the science museum in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts takes advantage of its location to invite visitors to participate in activities on or in the water. Exploramer’s expertise lies in its marine knowledge, which is not transmitted solely on the water; its museum is also an important means for engaging and informing visitors. On the side of its building is displayed Exploramer’s triple vocation: aquarium, sea excursions, exhibitions.
Visitors typically spend several hours there, given the variety of activities offered. Visitors above a certain height can go on a sea excursion or participate in “fish harvesting” using nets.
The site is also ideal for families given the fun aspect of its exhibitions and the large variety of marine species to be discovered in its aquariums. “There’s something for all interests and all ages,” says Sandra.
“For children, there is the Masked Porpoise Squad day camp. They spend the day solving problems proposed by Master Kashalô.”
Until 2003, the site was called Explorama and was not specifically dedicated to the St. Lawrence River resources. After its closure, a committee decided to refocus its mission around a museum of ocean sciences and the river’s marine biodiversity.
Exploramer has contributed to the economic development of the Haute-Gaspésie and, today, the whole region is reaping the benefits. “We have 31,000 visitors a year and people stay at the site from four to six hours. Because we stay open longer, people inevitably end up having a meal in the area or spending the night before hitting the road the next day. We’ve succeeded in creating a stopover on the road to Percé. Before, people used to sleep in Rimouski or Matane and then drive directly to Forillon National Park. The Haute-Gaspésie used to only be a transit route, but the tourist attractions have increased and lodging industry has been revitalized,” explains Sandra, who has witnessed the boom in microbreweries, bakeries, chocolate factories and distilleries in the Haute‑Gaspésie in the last decade.
Since we’re speaking of development, it should be mentioned that Exploramer is currently working to increase its offer and is carrying on activities related to conservation, data collection and research on its marine species in captivity. “We have fish, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, algae, everything you need in small quantities, but we have a project for the next few years to expand the aquarium, to represent a St. Lawrence River ecosystem, to have more species and larger fish,” says Sandra.
Experience the excitement and emotion
In its museum, Exploramer has a large collection of artifacts and ecofacts. The Director explains, however, that this is not exactly the kind of institution where you have to be serious and whisper all the time. Instead, Exploramer wants to give free rein to expression, so that everyone can enjoy themselves by taking part in playful activities. “We try to transmit information through humour, surprise and astonishment. You hear a lot of laughter in the museum, and children are allowed to run and scream. It’s a place of pleasure, discovery, wonder and emotion too, such as in the touch pool when you hold a starfish in your hands. If you pay attention, you can feel many things when you touch a marine animal.”
Outdoors, the range of activities is as entertaining as it is educational. Visitors can put both feet in the water to learn about marine species or jump aboard a brand new ship to learn about sustainable fishing. “We wanted to take advantage of this proximity to the sea to say to people, ‘come here, we’ve got something extraordinary to show you,’ ” says Sandra.
“With the fyke net, we collect scientific data. When the tide is high, the different species enter the fishing net, and then when it’s low, they remain captive, but alive, which allows us to measure them and observe their distinctive features before releasing them, so that ultimately we can raise awareness and understanding among our visitors.”
A workshop on sustainable fishing is also offered, followed by a tasting of five marine species promoted by the company through its Smarter Seafood certification. Exploramer, wanting to do more regarding its sustainable development and social responsibility objectives, created the Smarter Seafood initiative, which has had great success.
The certification ensures the sound management of Québec’s marine resources and aims to put little-known and under-exploited marine species on the menus of the province’s restaurants. “At first, our goal was to have a certification only for the Gaspésie region, but we quickly realized that there were requests from all over Québec,” says Sandra. “There are many species fished from the St. Lawrence River but that Quebecers know little about because they’re exported: rock crab, turbot, green sea urchins. It’s important that we have the chance to get to know them, discover them, taste them and make them part of our food choices so that, in time, we can minimize the export of our products and use them to feed Quebecers instead.”
Exploramer is playing its cards right, in short, by innovating, by participating in regional development initiatives and simply by leaving people in wonder, thanks to its many activities.
Blog post written by Valérie Thérien
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