SIMRS executive director/marine biologist Karyssa Arnett, centre, with summer intern Amanda Purnell, left, and program coordinator/biologist Sophie Vanderbanck get ready for a Build-A-Whale event where participants help construct the skeleton of an offshore killer whale. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society is having a hard time recovering from pandemic downfall

One of Tofino’s long-standing non-profits needs help to stay afloat.

Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society (SIMRS), founded by Rod Palm in 1991 as a platform for monitoring Bigg’s Killer Whales, is in urgent need of funding to continue operations and marine conservation projects.

“SIMRS has been monitoring the marine environment of Clayoquot Sound for the last 30 years. The thing with monitoring is, the longer it goes on for the more valuable it becomes. Interruptions throw a monkey wrench into the value of information,” said Palm, who acts as a research advisor for the non-profit.

“Back in the (eighties and nineties) when SIMRS was getting going, there were a lot of protests going on. It dawned on me then that everything was anectdotal. What we need is hard facts. That’s when the monitoring and recording started. We started to collect the data so we would have all the information to back up the claims. That did have an impact and (MacMillan Bloedel) backed off.”

According to SIMRS executive director and marine biologist Karyssa Arnett, the organization needs to secure about $20,000 to aid in their recovery due to the lasting impacts of the pandemic.

“We received only two per cent of the grant funding we applied for this year, so our total funding has diminished. It’s been really competitive. Research and conservation fees from whale watching tours have also dropped and donations have suffered,” Arnett told the Westerly News during a Build-A-Whale event outside the Tourism Tofino visitor centre.

“It’s been a tough time. I think we are facing the delayed effect from COVID-19,” she said.

SIMRS employs a small team of two full-time staff and one summer intern. In addition to providing educational opportunities like the interactive Build-A-Whale program and the citizen science Sea Star Monitoring research, Arnett says SIMRS is the only organization on the Coast outside of government bodies such as Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Parks Canada that is able to support with marine mammal entanglements and necropsies.

“If there is a baby seal that needs to be rescued, we have the tools and equipment. There’s definitely a need out here. We get a lot of incidents throughout the year, but it’s an expensive undergoing to do those type of operations. That’s been a hard one to keep and maintain funding over the years,” said Arnett.

Jen Dart has volunteered as the SIMRS board president for the past four years.

“SIMRS flies under the radar, but they are so important. The work won’t be missed until there is an incident where the SIMRS staff would normally respond,” said Dart, noting that DFO supports the grassroots organization with marine rescue training, but not financial support.

“Like many organizations we rely on community support. We need a little support to get through this difficult time. If we can get past this point, we will be able to last another 30 years. We are open to anything. This is new territory for us. We are willing to consider sponsorship of programs. Get in touch with us. We are open to suggestions and ideas on how we can bring more programming to the community,” Dart said.

A message to DFO was not returned by press time.

RELATED: All hands on deck for whale rescue training at Cox Bay, Tofino

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READ MORE: Dead grey whale calf towed to Tofino for necropsy


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