In Haute-Gaspésie, on the banks of the St. Lawrence, the museum dedicated to marine ecosystems, Exploramer, is full of activities for children and adults alike.
“We raise awareness about the preservation of the St. Lawrence. People still only know little bits of the St. Lawrence out of a sea of possible knowledge,” confides Exploramer’s general manager, Sandra Gauthier, who returned to Quebec for a contract 17 years ago and who ultimately never left the Gaspé.
A museum, aquariums and sea excursions
A few steps from the river, the scientific museum of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts takes advantage of its geographical location to invite visitors to activities on the water or in the water. Exploramer’s expertise is its marine knowledge, but it is not only transmitted on the water: it is also in its museum that we inform visitors and meet them. On its building, we can read its triple vocation: aquarium, sea excursions, exhibitions.
Visitors normally spend several hours here, given the variety of activities offered. The older ones have the possibility of going on a sea excursion or “picking fish” in fishing nets.
The place is also ideal for families due to the fun aspect of its exhibitions and the wealth of marine species to discover in its aquariums. “There is something for all tastes and all ages,” confirms Sandra.
For children, there is the Masked Porpoise Squad day camp. They spend the day here solving problems submitted by Master Sperm Whale. »
Until 2003, the place was called Explorama and was not specifically devoted to the resources of the St. Lawrence. After its closure, a committee decided to refocus its mission around a museum on oceanographic sciences and the marine biodiversity of the river.
Exploramer participated in the economic development of Haute-Gaspésie and today, the entire region benefits from it. “We welcome 31,000 visitors a year and people stay there between four and six hours. By extending the duration of the visit, this means that people inevitably go to have a meal in the area or sleep here before hitting the road the next day. We managed to create a stop on the road to Percé. Before, people slept in Rimouski or Matane and traveled directly to Forillon National Park. Haute-Gaspésie was only a passing route, but tourist attractions have increased and accommodation has been revitalized,” explains Sandra, witness to the boom in Haute-Gaspésie of microbreweries, bakeries, chocolate factories and distilleries, in the last decade.
Speaking of development, let’s mention that Exploramer is currently working to increase its offer and is doing conservation, data collection and research on its marine species in captivity. “We have fish, molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms, algae, everything you need in small quantities, but we have a project for the next few years of expansion for the Aquarium, to represent an ecosystem of Saint-Laurent, to have more species and larger fish,” says Sandra.
Experiencing 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 keep your seriousness and whisper. Rather, Exploramer wants to give free rein to expression, so that everyone has fun taking part in playful activities. “We try to convey content through humour, surprise, astonishment. You hear a lot of laughter in the museum, and children are allowed to run around and scream.
It’s pleasure, discovery, it’s wonder and it’s also emotion, for example in the touch pool when you hold a starfish in your hands. If we are attentive, we can feel many things in contact with a marine animal. »
Outside the walls, the range of activities is as entertaining as it is educational. The visitor puts both feet in the water to understand marine species or jumps aboard a brand new vessel to understand sustainable fishing. “We wanted to take advantage of this proximity to the sea to tell people: ‘come, we’re going to show you something extraordinary’, says Sandra.
With the fyke net, we collect scientific data. When the tide is high, the species come to take refuge in the fishing net, and when it is low, they remain captive, but alive, which allows us to measure them and observe their distinctive aspects before releasing them, to finally doing awareness and interpretation for our visitors. »
A workshop on sustainable fishing followed by a tasting of five marine species promoted by the company through its Blue Fork certification is also offered. Exploramer, which wanted to further its objectives of sustainable development and social responsibility, created the Blue Fork initiative, which has been very successful.
The certification ensures the sound management of marine resources in Quebec and aims to put little-known and under-exploited marine species on the menu of restaurants in the province. “Initially, our ambition was to have certification only for the Gaspésie region; but quickly, we realized that there were requests everywhere in Quebec, says Sandra. There are many species in the St. Lawrence that are fished but that Quebeckers know little about because they are exported: rock crab, turbot, green sea urchins. It is important that we can know them, discover them, taste them and that we can appropriate them in order, over time, to minimize the export of our products to feed Quebecers. »
Exploramer plays its cards right, in short, by innovating, by participating in regional development and by simply marveling, thanks to its many activities.
Post written by Valérie Thérien
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