PORT ANGELES — Feiro Marine Life Center at Port Angeles City Pier has reopened to the public, but don’t expect to just drop in to see the fish or touch the urchins.
Admission to the center is now reservation-only under state guidelines for COVID-19 containment through social distancing.
Feiro Executive Director Melissa Williams said Friday, the official reopening day, that the reservation system was the only workable plan for opening the doors.
Reservations need to be made through the Feiro website 24 hours in advance to ensure staffing at the center, Williams said.
Booking information can be found at www.feiromarinelifecenter.org.
“It’s a free booking, just go online, and it’s just like making a reservation at a restaurant,” she said. “You just pick a time, and you get 45 minutes.”
Groups are limited to eight people from the same household group.
Admission fees, which had traditionally been in place during the busy summer tourist season, have been waived for now, but visitors are encouraged to make donations and to purchase items from the center’s gift shop.
“We didn’t want the price to be a big reason why people wouldn’t come,” Williams said. “But we do ask you, many times during the process, for a donation.”
Under the original re-opening guidelines issued by Gov. Jay Inslee, zoos and museums were set to open under Phase 3, but zoos were moved into Phase 2 in early June.
Williams said aquariums were closely related to zoos by default but presented greater challenges to social distancing because of the confined space.
“We’re just not big enough to have more groups in here at a time,” she said.
To qualify for re-opening, Feiro installed clear partitions across the center’s touch tanks, creating a barrier between visitors and docents.
Microscopes once used to view tiny sea creatures were removed from public reach, and other hard-to-clean items, such as the children’s sandbox, were moved into storage.
All modifications were cleared by Clallam County Health Department officials, Williams said.
Educational outreach, a primary mission of the marine life center, had to be reassessed when the original stay-home directives were issued in March. Most education programs were moved online and made accessible to school students and teachers.
If and when school resumes in the fall, school field trips will be curtailed; online enrichment is expected to continue, Williams said.
“We’re trying to rethink everything,” she said. “School groups can’t continue the way they always have.”
Feiro guest services specialist Disa Wilson was guiding a family of visitors from Texas on Saturday. She said the previous week’s soft opening for marine life center patrons had been good training for inviting in the general public.
“I think it’s going to work really well as long as everybody goes by the rules,” Wilson said. “It’s really different this year, but I’m sure we’re going to handle it.”
Williams said all the measures implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will present a very different look and feel from the way the Feiro had previously operated.
“The only things that really stayed the same are that the animals need to eat, and the (tanks) need to be cleaned and the water has to keep flowing,” she said. “That’s the only thing that hasn’t changed for us.”
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 59050, or at [email protected].