Coast Guard supports science outreach for kids throughout the Salish Sea

CCGS Vector
A group of seven-to-10 year olds from the Sea to Sky Outdoor School are brought aboard the Vector on the first stop of the expedition at Sechelt. Photo credit: Dan Anthony, Royal Roads University

As a small flotilla of canoes filled with kids approach Canadian Coast Guard Ship Vector, a collective cheer rings out from the group. The seven-to-10 year olds from the Sea to Sky Outdoor School canoed the last couple of kilometres of their journey from Nanaimo to meet the ship anchored off Sechelt near YMCA Camp Elphinstone.

The kids were the first of many school groups to take part in the Salish Sea Expedition during 2010’s Science and Technology week. The program is a partnership between Natural Resources Canada, Royal Roads University, the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Research Council, Ocean Networks Canada and the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. The expedition works to educate students and others about the role of marine science and the marine environment in their communities.

“Many of the smaller communities around B.C. don’t have easy access to science centres and museums, says Phil Hill, NRCAN Scientist and Lead Scientist for the expedition. “So the Salish Sea Expedition brings the science to the people,” With the help of scientists, the Coast Guard crew and a whole range of people from participating organizations, CCGS Vector was decked out as a floating science centre. With stops at the Salish Sea coastal communities of Gibsons, Powell River, Campbell River, Ganges and finally Victoria, the five-day tour brought hands-on, interactive science to elementary and secondary students, and the general public. “The Expedition gave us a model for future science public outreach and was a huge success.”

Scientists were positioned at stations around the ship, where visitors had the opportunity to learn about different streams of oceanic research and get hands-on access to samples, photos and graphics and see demonstrations of some of the equipment used onboard the Vector.

Senior students from Gulf Islands Secondary School
Once their tour of the ship was completed, senior students from Gulf Islands Secondary School, Ganges, departed the Vector and the scientists and crew prepared for another group of students. Photo credit: Dan Bate

At one of the more popular science stations, Royal Roads professor, Dr. Audrey Dallimore showed off a core sample of 10,000-year-old mud taken from the sea floor off Tofino. Kids were enthusiastic about being able to touch a piece of geologic history.

“The more students can rub shoulders with scientists, the more they can actually see where this critically important information is gathered,” said Ted Turner, Program Director for the Sea to Sky Outdoor School. “It’s this kind of experience that could be a first step in kids considering science as a career.”

A ship tour including the bridge was a highlight for many of the visiting students, who were inspired by commanding officer Captain Kent Reid and senior officers’ presentation on the ship’s navigational and propulsion equipment.

For Captain Kent Reid, the Salish Sea Expedition was a great few days. “It was hard work hosting close to 1200 people onboard the ship, but everyone from our engine room to our galley staff put in a phenomenal effort,” said Captain Reid. “The tour gave us an opportunity to showcase some of the career opportunities available in the Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.”

Feedback forms show that the Captain and crew’s efforts paid off. A majority of the kids who responded felt the strongest connection with the ship’s crew. Of all the different people they met during the day, the role many could see themselves in was that of a Coast Guard crew member.

At the final stop of the tour in Victoria, many of the scientists had some time to reflect on the week. “The response has been gratifying,” said Jane Whynn, Project Leader NRCAN Public Safety Geoscience Program. “Talking to the public, they’re interested to learn more about the work that’s going on in their backyard and they’re thrilled to learn that the science going on there is relevant to issues that are of concern to ordinary Canadians.”