Wellington's very own aquatic oasis

26 March 2015

If you’ve ever looked out across the Wellington Harbour or beaches and wondered what’s going on beneath the water’s surface, then you should pay a visit to the Island Bay Marine Education Centre.

Fish inside of a fishtank.

A fishtank at Island Bay Marine Education Centre.

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Perched upon the rocky shore on the south coast this volunteer driven marine education facility and aquarium focuses on Wellington’s sea life, marine eco-system and sustainability.  Along with volunteer power, IBMEC is supported by Wellington City Council, the Ministry of Education, donations from the public, and fees collected from school programmes.

Chiara LaRotonda is a dedicated volunteer at the IBMEC, donating her time fortnightly to help out wherever possible. It was her life-long dream of holding an octopus that first caught Chiara’s interest in the Centre. Other highlights included feeding an octopus a live crab, and learning about the fascinating chromatophores in their skin, the pigment-containing and light-reflecting cells that allow them to change their colour.

Popular attractions include the Touch Gently Pool, tanks which are low and open to allow people to interact with local marine life that are safe to touch and tolerate being handled. These include sea stars, sea anemones, sea snails, sponge, kina, sea cucumbers and various species of crabs. IBMEC’s Bait House Aquarium houses species found right on our front doorstep, Wellington’s south coast.

The marine education centre obtain their sea creatures in several ways; many fish are born in captivity, others are brought to them by fishermen – often octopuses caught by mistake. They usually spend only a few weeks at the Centre, and their hunting skills are keenly encouraged to ensure a seamless return to the wild. There are no specific breeding programs in place, but nature does take its course, and Chiara noted that sometimes it feels like they’re running a sea creature crèche.

Explaining why IBMEC is valuable, Chiara says, “It introduces people to the world we are surrounded by in Wellington right beneath the surface of the water.” In the local schools education programme, a focus is put on relationships – between plants and animals, and the environment and ecology.

“I think it’s an opportunity to learn empathy, especially at the Touch Tanks,” Chiara adds. “I am constantly telling the kids ‘If Godzilla came to your house and picked you up out of bed, how would you want him to hold you?’”

The overarching theme of IBMEC is about respect, from the expanse of the ocean to the tiny creatures that reside within it.