A marine life marriage in Port Angeles? Feiro, national marine sanctuary consider merging visitor centers
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Seattle visitors Asher Seawall, 9, Sage, Hobbs, 11, and Sky Hobbs, 9, examine sea creatures Monday in the touch tank at the Feiro Marine Life Center on City Pier in Port Angeles. -- Photo by Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Two small North Olympic Peninsula marine science education organizations are working to combine forces to create a major educational and tourist attraction in downtown Port Angeles.

For the past four months, the Feiro Marine Life Center, a private nonprofit on City Pier, and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, based in Port Angeles and overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have been working to find ways to combine funding and function in a combined new facility for marine science education.

With more than 15,000 annual visitors, and more than 3,000 youth taking part in marine science programs in 2012, the Feiro Marine Life Center’s live animal displays and classroom offerings have grown out of its wedge-shaped building, said director Deborah Moriarty.

A fish’s jump away, at the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary’s Discovery Center in The Landing mall, the situation is similar, with marine life models and interactive science and technology exhibits that need more space, according to Carol Bernthal, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary superintendent.

The process is still in its infancy. Officials are identifying what each organization needs, where their missions overlap, and where they might get funding, Moriarty and Bernthal said, adding that no timeline has been set.

The partnership would combine funds to design and build a single new facility to house expanded, modernized versions of the Feiro center and the Discovery Center, with room for future expansion.

Such a facility would be welcome as part of the city’s downtown waterfront, but it is not included in the current waterfront plan, said Nathan West, Port Angeles director of community and economic development.

The city is constructing an esplanade — a walkway at the waterline— in the downtown waterfront area, and is proposing the restoration of natural contours to the waterfront west of the esplanade to add a beach and park area.

A combined marine center is not in city plans, and no location or design has been proposed.

Officials with the two groups are talking about a general idea of building or converting a facility on the downtown Port Angeles waterfront within the next 10 years, with combined facilities for shared functions such as classrooms for educational programming but separate offices and laboratories to complete their own, unique missions, they said.

With a reduction in federal funding, there is increasing pressure to create public-private or public-nonprofit partnerships, Bernthal said.

Both organizations are rich with science resources, knowledge and access to the kind of exhibits that can be offered as both a local educational resource and tourism attraction, but neither has the kind of classroom space they need for the demand, or for their missions.

Feiro’s facility has a single 20-student classroom, little storage space and Moriarty’s narrow office doubles as the center’s laboratory.

The marine sanctuary, which tries to attract the brightest ocean science majors as interns, has no office space for those interns to complete their work, Bernthal said.

The Discovery Center is a small, rectangular converted storefront, crowded with technology exhibits that could be better used and appreciated with more space between them.

Most of the youth classes split time between Feiro and the Discovery Center, so those 3,000 students crammed into the single small class space at Feiro must also find space at the Discovery Center, Bernthal said.

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary protects more than 3,300 square miles of sensitive coastal Pacific Ocean waters, from Cape Flattery to Copalis Beach.

The sanctuary’s visitors’ center is in many ways similar to the Feiro center, dedicated to education and information about the marine sanctuary, which includes most of the animals on display at the Feiro center, as well as rare and less-known deep-sea corals.

The sanctuary has a more technical scientific mission, including the use of underwater remote operated vehicles.

Many of the classes offered for elementary, middle school and high school-age students are geared toward “math, engineering, and science achievement,” known as MESA, education — the technical aspects of marine science, Bernthal said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 21. 2013 6:27PM
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