PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend Marine Science Center Aquarium and Museum staff are eagerly looking forward to Saturday.
That’s when the two exhibits will be reopened to the public on a limited basis.
The center was closed on March 10, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reopened for a few weeks in the fall, and closed again until this weekend, when hours will be from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with reservations required.
That will mark the start of a test window between now and Memorial Day when the staff will evaluate “how much more we will be able to open this summer,” said Janine Boire, executive director, during an interview on Wednesday.
During the hiatus, marine animals have been cared for by the center’s “remarkable” aquarium curator, Ali Redman, and a team of AmeriCorp volunteers, Boire said.
“It has been a challenge because the core strength of the marine science center has always been our extraordinary volunteer base, affectionately known as Home Crew,” some 10 to 15 people who clean the tanks weekly and who have not been able to come in, Boire said.
“That’s been one of the hardest things for our organization,” she said. “All of our community is so active, such a giving community in terms of their time, and not being able to be together with that extended community is probably one of the hardest things” about the temporary closure.
Reservations can be made now for hour-long visits to the center — 30 minutes each in the aquarium and museum — at https://ptmsc.org/left-menu/visit-us.
Group sizes will be limited to eight people. Touch tanks will be look-only tanks, and social distancing, face-mask requirements and other precautions will be in place.
Regular admission is $7 for adults, $5 for youth 6-17 and free for children 5 and younger. Payment will be by credit or debit card; no cash will be accepted. Members of the center are admitted free of charge.
The gift shop also will be open from noon to 5 Saturday and Sunday. One family group, up to five people, will be allowed at a time. No reservations are required, but visitors must wait at the door until they are welcomed by staff members.
Among the highlights of the aquarium is a Pacific Octopus that was recently named Sylvia.
The creature was one of only two known octopuses that has been raised from a larval stage, Boire said.
When fully grown, it could have as much as an 8-foot arm span. Now that span is about 1 foot.
“It really is pretty exciting,” Boire said.
The octopus was found in a light trap — a light that attracts animals under the pier — used during a research project largely led by a tribal collaborative group to count crab larvae. It was appropriately nicknamed Tiny.
The name of Sylvia was selected by winning auction bidders Shannon Orr and Melanie McAllester in honor of environmentalist Sylvia Earle, the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.
“In choosing the name, we hope a few young girls might be inspired to follow in Sylvia’s footsteps,” Orr said.
The center’s first-ever virtual auction, “You, Me & The Salish Sea!” was conducted on March 24. Held annually to support the center’s scientific and educational programs to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea, the online event and the week-long silent auction that concluded the same day raised a total of $123,634.
Proceeds from the fundraiser support youth and adult educational programs, community science projects, the aquarium and the museum.
The auction was just the most recent example of the community’s generosity,” Boire said.
“We are extraordinarily grateful to this community,” she said. “We’re doing fine. We retained all our staff,” with the help of a Paycheck Protection Program grant as well as individual donations.
“To say that the last year has been filled with uncertainty and adversity would be quite an understatement,” Boire said in a press release.
“But our supporters rose to the occasion, contributing well above and beyond our expectations. We are succeeding because we are a thriving community striving to protect and preserve the incredible yet vulnerable resources of the Salish Sea.”
Said Diane Baxter, president of the center’s board of directors: “People and organizations are defined by how they respond to adversity. Under Janine Boire’s strong leadership, our staff and AmeriCorps worked together to embrace creative new ways to address our mission. I also would like to thank the board members, whose dedication amidst myriad challenges helped keep the center going.”
For the latest information about the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, visit www.ptmsc.org, or look for the center’s on Facebook, @PTMarineScience on Twitter and @ptmarinescictr on Instagram.