I had visited Ucluelet a few years earlier and didn’t know then that there was an aquarium in that small community. It was only by chance that I happened by it in 2011 while on a casual stroll along the waterfront. The aquarium was, at that time, a nondescript hovel commonly referred to by locals as the plywood shack or mini aquarium. During that visit, Laura was quite excited to report that a plan was in the works to build a larger, permanent facility right next door the following year. I knew then that I would return one day to visit the new aquarium.
It was a pleasure meeting Laura, but I never gave much thought to our paths ever crossing again, even as I entered the new aquarium in October 2019. I paid my admission to the man behind the desk and made my way to the exhibits. After about fifteen minutes, I had accumulated a few questions that I hoped he could answer. As I approached the counter, I immediately recognized the person that had relieved him for his lunch break—it was Laura. “I remember you,” she said. “Ya, I remember you too,” I replied. Now, I’m sure Laura has greeted thousands of visitors during the eight years since we first met and yet, she remembered me. An unexpected and pleasant surprise and of course we got to chatting.
Laura told me that she was born on the other side of the Island, in Comox. “I don’t leave much,” she said. “I’m an island girl.” She did qualify that by noting she did travel to Austria as an exchange student in 2002 where she enjoyed a new cultural experience as well as an activity she had grown up with—downhill skiing. She still gets her skiing fix at a familiar stomping ground, Mount Washington near her hometown of Comox.
Laura told me that she had traveled to the western side of the island many times as a young girl, but it was a visit to Ucluelet in 2008 to visit friends when she discovered the small aquarium for the first time. It only took the one visit and she was hooked—she didn’t want to leave. Laura said that she spent so much time volunteering at the aquarium that she was eventually offered a job.
Since our first encounter in 2011, Laura went on to study biology at the University of Victoria and now enjoys her position as curator at the Ucluelet Aquarium. She is a diver and a huge chunk of her duties is helping to collect specimens from the ocean that serve as the exhibits. All the marine life that visitors see and touch are only there temporarily however, a unique feature of the facility. What comes out of the ocean must go back and of course, Laura is hands on for that as well. The dream job. I’m sure there are some mundane duties that go along with the position but still, the dream job. As one would expect from someone so committed to studying and protecting the marine environment, Laura also volunteers for various conservation projects.
Laura reported that she is now married, a union that did present some conflict. Her forest fire fighting partner is from California and of course, a decision had to be made as to where they would put down roots. As I noted, Laura is committed to her island home and I got the sense that she was quite happy that her husband agreed to stay where she felt most comfortable.
Laura’s passion for the study and preservation of marine life and her enthusiasm toward educating visitors was as obvious to me during our recent visit as it was in 2011. What I am writing here barely scratches the surface of who Laura Griffith-Cochrane is. Check out this YouTube interview with Laura and I know you’ll agree—she is a passionate and remarkable woman and I believe that the health of our environment is in good hands with curators like her at the helm.
YouTube - Ep. 3 - Laura Griffith-Cochrane: Biologist and Aquarium Curator
Oh ya…….sea cucumbers breath through their anus.