Sunday, 16 June 2013

Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of visiting the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC). This superb research facility is jointly owned by the Universities of Alberta, British Columbia, Calgary, Simon Fraser, and Victoria. I went to BMSC to attend the annual face-to-face meeting of the five partners to assess the events of the past year and plan for the next. 

The logos of the five Bamfield partners, put up just hours before we arrived.

The BMSC consists of 190 acres of virtually pristine land on the south-west side of Vancouver Island. Although it is not far from Victoria as the crow flies, getting to Bamfield isn’t easy. One can drive there, but the last third of the 4.5 hour drive is on a rough logging road where you have to avoid potholes, stones, and large logging trucks travelling at high speeds. Instead, I flew to Nanaimo, was driven an hour to Port Alberni, and then took a 1.5 hour boat ride to Bamfield.

Spectacular view of the Bamfield area ( The BMSC buildings are at the bottom of the picture.
The Marine Sciences Center is the home away from home for many Western Canadian marine researchers and their graduate students. They typically come for the summer to conduct research in a variety of marine-related topics, including aquatic animals, the ocean environment, rainforest habitats, and numerous species of wildlife. During the spring and fall, there are many courses offered at Bamfield giving the lucky students hands-on experience working in a superb research environment. How come they didn’t have incredible opportunities like this when I was a student?

The students and faculty come to Bamfield to work, but they also come to escape. Your senses come alive here. Visually, the setting is idyllic, surrounded by majestic green forrest on three sides and the ripling blue ocean on the other. The air smells different. It's fresh – even invigorating – with a salty tinge to it. You can step outside in the early morning and not hear a man-made sound, just the rustling of leaves, lapping of the waves, and the call of the birds. Animals frequently make an appearance, with bear sightings a regular occurance (apparently there are cougars nearby). During my two-day stay I missed seeing the bear that ambled onto the BMSC grounds, but I did see the bald eagle showing off its ability to glide overhead scanning for prey.

The view from the BMSC looking west towards an island and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
Accommodations are minimalist. BMSC has excellent research facilities but tends not to spend much on housing. That’s okay, since you come to Bamfield to work, not play. The impressive Rix Centre is the focal point for much of the research and social activities, including a wonderful meeting room with a panoramic view of the water.

The Rix Centre for Ocean Discovery.
We weren’t the only guests getting food and accommodation at Bamfield
Although I have known about Bamfield for many years, it wasn’t until this trip that I discovered what it really was. The University of Alberta is 1,000 kilometers away from the Pacific, yet we have in effect a shared mini-campus on the ocean shore.

A reality check.

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