Aliens Among Us: The Threat of Lionfish and Fellow Invaders

2021, Ripleys Aquarium
Aquarium, Fish, Invasive species, Lionfish, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, Toronto
About This Project

Date: Projected for Summer 2021
Partner: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Location: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, Discovery Centre
Project Members: Claire Buisson, Corrina Taccone, Lauren Ulbricht
Located in the Discovery Centre at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, Aliens Among Us: The Threat of Lionfish and Fellow Invaders is an interactive and educational permanent exhibition about invasive species opening in Summer 2021. The intent of the project was to highlight the Lionfish as a unique, venomous fish and an example of the threat that invasive species pose to vital marine ecosystems. Using the Lionfish as a case study, this exhibit teaches Guests about the impact of invasive species and how to prevent introducing or spreading local aquatic invasive species. The exhibition will further Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s conservation message by highlighting the nature and impact of invasive species.
The fluctuating demands of the COVID-19 pandemic forced Ripley’s Aquarium to close its doors, creating an opportunity for massive renovations of the Discovery Centre and ultimately a change in their priorities for the space. The Discovery Centre is an interactive zone for all ages, with an emphasis on children’s activities. This project supports the reimagining of a more functional area for Guests to engage with. With that being said, our primary intended audience is explorers of all ages and facilitating guardians. Lionfish were present in the pre-existing tank, but surrounding text and wall panels coincided with the clownfish that previously resided in the tank. Our goal was to update the surrounding interpretive elements to match the contents of the tank and discuss invasive species. To meet the needs of Ripley’s primary audience and the goals of our host, the exhibit will be informational and content heavy with didactic mounted text panels covering characteristics of Lionfish as invasive species, invasive species in Ontario, and ways Guests can prevent the spread of invasive species.

This project presented several challenges for us as a team, all stemming from working around COVID-19 and multiple lockdowns. This challenge was known to us from the start but navigating it for the first time was a unique experience. We visited the Aquarium once as a group in the fall, from then on, all our communication was via video call and email. Managing expectations and working remotely was not an aspect of this project we had been looking forward to, but we made it work effectively. We were forced to alter our expectations in terms of the completion date of the exhibition, as other projects within the Aquarium started to take precedence.
The space we had to work with was unique due to its small size and the inclusion of the large interactive tank in the middle. Including interactive elements in our design plan was an important feature to create continuity in the Discovery Centre. We had to consider how these elements would help make use of the entire space, be utilized while touch interactives are closed, and support social distancing. Proposed is an immersive digital map display that demonstrates the spread of Lionfish populations. Included is a small interactive floor projection that will mimic water and allow Guests to see a diverse variety of invasive aquatic species.
Our team worked collaboratively with the Director of Engineering, Operations & Projects, and the Manager of Education & Conservation at Ripley’s Aquarium to realize this project. Pending budget approval, we will be able to move forward with selecting a design team who will be providing the designs, fabrication, and installation services.
We would like to thank Ripley’s Aquarium for the opportunity to work on this project, and especially our supervisor, Katie McMahon, and Brian Lidster. We would also like to thank Dr. Agnieszka Chalas, Camille Mary-Sharp, and Haley Bryant, and everyone else who supported us throughout the year.