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  6. New exhibit at Canadian Museum of Nature addresses urgent issues of ocean plastics and climate change impacts

New exhibit at Canadian Museum of Nature addresses urgent issues of ocean plastics and climate change impacts

© Canadian Museum of Nature.


View of the new exhibit in the museum's Water Gallery. 

Ottawa, May 29, 2019 – A new section of the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Water Gallery is putting the spotlight on serious issues affecting the health of marine and fresh waters and the life that they sustain. This first phase of the updated gallery features exhibits on plastics, emphasizes the problem of microplastics pollution, and educates about climate change impacts, including ocean acidification.

The stories are told through interactive games, colourful and thought-provoking graphics, real specimens, informative videos, profiles of researchers, a sculptural art piece of ocean garbage, and a tank with ethereal moon jellyfish, the preferred food of sea turtles.  

“The Water Gallery opened in 2010 with a focus on marine and freshwater specimens and the common thread that water sustains all life on this Blue Planet,” explains Ailsa Barry, the Museum’s Vice-President, Experience and Engagement. “Working with our content partner, Ocean Wise, we are updating it to show the interconnectedness of all water systems and the role that humans play. Our actions affect the water, and what happens to the water affects us all.”

A major human impact upon the environment has been from the growing use of plastics since 1948. Not only does it take hundreds of years for plastics to decompose, but plastic particles are making their way into the stomachs of marine and freshwater creatures. In the new exhibit, the tank of live jellyfish is positioned next to one with floating plastic bags, which sea turtles can easily mistake for food. Researchers estimate that 52% of the world’s sea turtles have plastic in their digestive system which can cause fatal blockages. (Canadian coastal waters are home to four species of sea turtles)

Other exhibit components include a “Plastic Planet” timeline, a spinning “soup” of microplastics, a scanning game to discover the decomposition periods for single-use plastics, a video about the phenomenon of ocean gyres, and a plastic-infused chunk of volcanic rock called a plastiglomerate. Dominating the back wall of the gallery is a huge, colourful information graphic that tracks the impacts of climate change on lakes, river and oceans. This section includes a video that shows global sea currents and wind patterns in real time, with data updated every few hours by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The new exhibits profile scientists who are studying these developments and working on finding solutions. The museum is also encouraging visitors to consider the impacts of their own personal actions with respect to use of plastics and climate change, with some calls-to-action in the exhibit, and a page on its web site, nature.ca with resources for more information.

In conjunction with the opening of this new exhibit, the Museum continues to remove plastic items from its natureCAFE and catering services, and to offer alternatives such as ceramic dishes, steel cutlery and compostable or recyclable containers. As of May 2019, the caterer Gourmet Cuisine has removed drinks in plastic bottles, plastic straws, single-use plastic cutlery, plastic lids, and plastic containers for grab-and-go items such as yogurt and hummus.

Interesting facts:

·       It is estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic particles are floating in the ocean.

·       The Mediterranean Sea has the highest density of microplastics in the world.

·       Most of the ocean’s plastic pollution lies at the bottom of the sea.

·       80% of plastic pollution in the ocean comes from land-based litter that made its way into the water.

·       By 2050, there will be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the ocean

·       Certain algae growing on plastic can give off an odour that smells like food to birds—a possible clue as to why marine birds are ingesting large quantities of plastic.

Access to the Water Gallery is included with regular museum admission. The Museum is located at 240 McLeod Street (at Metcalfe St.), Ottawa. Visit nature.ca for hours and fees. Follow the Museum’s social media channels: Twitter (@museumofnature) and Instagram (museumofnature) and  facebook.com/Canadianmuseumofnature.

Images available upon request.

About the Canadian Museum of Nature
Saving the world through evidence, knowledge, and inspiration! The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. The museum provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature's past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a 14.6 million specimen collection, education programs, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, nature.ca.

Information for media:

Laura Sutin, Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature

Dan Smythe, Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.566.4781; 613.698.9253 (cell)