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Public invited to return hundreds of sea creatures to Howe Sound

Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre's Release Day returns to Gibsons waters
Release Day NSMEC
The Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre's Release Day is ready to return on April 2.

Your chance to get up close and personal with the critters of the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre (NSMEC) is coming up. 

For the first time since 2019, the centre’s full Release Day is returning to Gibsons waters – and the public is invited to help out. 

On Saturday, April 2, NSMEC will be hosting its annual Release Day at Armours Beach in Gibsons, starting at 10 a.m. The event will carry on rain or shine, and participants of all ages are recommended to arrive between 10 and 11 a.m. to pick up the creature they will reintroduce into the intertidal area. Buckets of sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and various crab species will be ready to go home to Howe Sound. The Gibsons Paddle Club will also be on the water to help paddle out any creatures that belong in deeper waters. 

A goodbye party for the marine life was held on March 27, with free attendance to the aquarium at the Gibsons Public Market. Jenny Wright, the centre’s curator, said more than 180 people visited their collection and some went home with goodies from BC Ferries, the events’ sponsor.

Last year, amid pandemic safety restrictions, the public was invited to bid adieu to the creatures before their return to the ocean, but were only able to watch the actual release virtually on April 9. As “Red”, the giant Pacific octopus, slipped quietly back into Howe Sound on April 6, the release was recorded by her caretakers as they waded into the water. 

Now, the NSMEC staff plan to release around 350 animals of 40 different species between April 2 and 4. The animals that live in deeper waters will be returned privately on the 4th, and that afternoon divers will begin the three-day search for members of the new collection.

“Octopus is always at the top of my wish list,” Wright said. “We’re hoping for some different species of rockfish as well. Some yellow-eyed or vermillion rockfish or copper rockfish would be absolutely amazing, those are ones we’ve not really had all that much.” 

Wright anticipates more than 50 people will help return between 100 and 200 of the creatures. A seashore scavenger hunt for kids will also take place on April 2, and hot chocolate and coffee from Crazy Red’s Breads will be available (bring your own reusable cup!). 

“We just hope we're bringing awareness of the amazing ecosystem and diversity here in our own local oceans, and inspire them to want to protect it and to care about it by being able to interact more closely,” Wright said.