The Cobequid Wire

Touch Tank Hut opens for 2021 season

- KIERAN DELAMONT

Just off to the side of the Alderney Landing parking lot stands a bright teal hut where you can, if you so choose, hold a squiggling starfish, touch a crab or watch a little hermit crab scurry from shell to shell — all without getting your feet wet in the harbour.

The Touch Tank Hut, as it’s called, is a “miniature marine interpreti­ve centre” that brings guests up close with the same aquatic life you can find up and down the coast of Nova Scotia. It was opened in 2017 and operates through the summer, usually until Labour Day. Before COVID put it on hiatus last year, it had over 10,000 visitors since it opened. And now, it’s back open for the first summer since 2019, offering guests a chance to get closer to sea life than usual.

The hut is operated by the Back to the Sea Society, who have been driving a years-long push to realize the dream of having a permanent aquarium in the HRM.

“Our goal is to become a permanent catch and release aquarium,” says staff member Sarah Holleran. “This is like a mini version of that, to raise money for the big aquarium.”

The long-standing goal of aquatic enthusiast­s and the Back to the Sea Society is to fund and build a city aquarium following the Society’s catch-and-release philosophy.

“Our founder [Magali Grégoire] is really into the philosophy of catching animals for a short period of time and then releasing them back to their natural habitat,” Holleran says. “We don’t like to keep anything for too long.”

Even long-time Haligonian­s don’t always know a ton about what sort of aquatic life lives along its shores, Holleran says. “I think it’s a really big surprise — people have seen sea stars, but a lot of the people on the East Coast have never touched them or know that they like to move,” she says, plucking a sea star from the tank and showing off its verymuch-alive underbelly.

The educationa­l mission extends beyond the hut, too. The team runs a Tidal Trekkers program, which essentiall­y replicates the hut experience in the real world along the real coast. With COVID, it was the only program they were able to really run last year; their first of the season took place over the weekend.

“We take you along the shores and actually pull out real animals, and show them to the group,” Holleran says.

The animals, she says, are generally pretty okay with being handled like this.

“They’re really happy. The reason we are able to do this is because they’re intertidal animals. If they were fish, we couldn’t do this. But intertidal animals are extremely hearty animals. They’re really good in a lot of different conditions.”

So, while the dream of a full, permanent aquarium might not be completely realized yet, the Touch Tank Hut is certainly a fun stand-in in the interim. And if you’re a parent looking for a way to kickstart a childhood passion for aquatic life, or even just to build an awareness of the city’s tidal ecosystems, what better way than to hold it right in your hand?

 ?? KIERAN DELAMONT ?? Sarah Holleran, animal care team lead at the Touch Tank Hut, holds out a sea star. "People have seen sea stars, but a lot of the people on the East Coast have never touched them or know that they like to move,” she says.
KIERAN DELAMONT Sarah Holleran, animal care team lead at the Touch Tank Hut, holds out a sea star. "People have seen sea stars, but a lot of the people on the East Coast have never touched them or know that they like to move,” she says.

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