Discovery Centre (Nova Scotia)

Engaging youth with ocean science at Halifax’s Discovery Centre

Emma sitting at a harbour.

Science Horizons intern Emma Snowdon sitting at a harbour. Photo credit: Emma Snowdon.

Emma Snowdon learned to love the ocean “and everything about it” from her mother, a Cape Bretoner and former lifeguard. “I picked that up at an early age and kept loving it and learning more about it,” says the biology graduate from Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB.

In 2019 Snowdon interned as staff scientist and aquarist at Halifax’s Discovery Centre. She was hired full time after she completed the internship which was supported by a United Nations Association in Canada grant paid for by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship program.

“Getting the job at the Discovery Centre really aligned with my long-term goals,” say Snowdon, who is now pursuing a Masters in Marine Management at Dalhousie University, Halifax. Her work at the centre was fulfilling and she learned new ways of engaging with ocean sciences, especially with children and education.

She was responsible for the centre’s ocean gallery, a focal point of the gleaming new attraction on the Halifax waterfront which opened in 2017. It is the first purpose-built version of the centre which has been operating in different locations since 1985.

Photo of Emma smiling at the camera.

Science Horizons intern Emma Snowdon. Photo credit: Emma Snowdon.

The ocean gallery is home to hermit crabs, moon snails, periwinkles, sea stars, sea urchins, and other small marine animals. It also has interactive displays about climate change and its potential impacts in Nova Scotia. Snowdon would chat with visitors and explain the gallery’s features including its popular touch pond and interactive stream table. She would also give presentations and develop day camp programs and displays.

She maintained the gallery’s “life-support system,” a series of tanks populated with aquatic species and food supplies that require cleaning, monitoring, and replenishing. Periodically, she would go to the seashore and collect marine animals and seaweed and bring them back to the centre – one of her favourite activities.

Ryan Jameson, Director of Science Education for the Discovery Centre, calls Snowdon a great communicator and team member who contributed significantly to displays and programming. “Emma put her own spin on a lot of programs during her internship,” he says.

Emma holding seaweed at the ocean’s edge.

Science Horizons intern Emma Snowdon holding seaweed at the ocean’s edge. Photo credit: Emma Snowdon.

Snowdon had the ability of striking up conversations with people from all ages and backgrounds, Jameson says, “and taking advantage of teachable moments.”

“It is really important for youth to have as many informal touch points with science as they can and science centres play a leading role in that,” says Jameson, who earlier worked at Sudbury’s popular Science North. “It’s an opportunity to engage youth with science in a way that’s not measured because they are not going to be graded on the way out the door,” he says. “You are there to engage, learn and have a good time.”

And while many children might wish to see large marine animals, the Discovery Centre teaches them to appreciate small plants and animals. Snowdon, for example, is intrigued by seaweed which she first studied in an undergraduate class on marine botany. “When you go to the beach you notice seaweed species that all look different,” she says. “It’s so interesting to learn about the adaptions of different species that allow them to survive in the rough intertidal zone. It really makes you appreciate all of the little things a bit more.”

Snowdon’s graduate project at Dalhousie is studying the value of combining Indigenous and local community ocean knowledge with scientific research. “I’m still learning all sorts of fun things and that’s something that’s really great about the ocean,” she says. “There’s always something more you can learn.”

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