Have you ever wondered what lives in the ocean nearby? Want to see the types of fish, crabs, and other creatures that thrive near Coos County? Believe it or not, all of this can be done at the Charleston Marine Life Center.
After being closed for much of the past two years, the Marine Life Center is open again, at least on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We missed having people,” said Trish Mace, director of the Charleston Marine Life Center. “Everyone here really enjoys interacting with the public and sharing spaces they are passionate about.”
The Marine Life Center is part of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology along with the University of Oregon. Mace explained that when the Institute of Marine Biology opened, it received grants for years to provide educational programs to area schools. When grant funding dried up, the decision was made to build the Charleston Marine Life Center to continue the work of educating schoolchildren and the public.
“Historically, we’ve been very involved in community education in various ways,” Mace explained.
The Marine Life Center was the dream of Dr. Craig Young, who was determined to keep the educational aspect of the Institute of Marine Biology alive when grant funding ended.
“He went to work and didn’t give up and worked for many years with the university and the community,” Mace said. “There was a lot of support from the community.”
This support enabled the Marine Life Center to open in 2016, and its doors remained open four days a week until early 2020, when COVID changed the world.
The Marine Life Center opened briefly last fall before the Delta variant forced it to close again, but when terms were approved in early winter, it reopened. Mace said she hopes the facility can stay open despite Omicron’s surge.
“We’re open to locals, we’re open to tourists, but we’re also open to regional schools, not just in Coos Bay, North Bend, Bandon and Coquille,” Mace said.
Even during the pandemic, the Marine Life Center offered virtual programming to schools, a move Mace said was very successful.
So what’s inside the establishment? A huge range of marine animals that can be seen, touched and explored to give guests an idea of what lives nearby.
Several touch tanks allow guests to see and smell a few animals such as starfish, sea cucumbers, and a variety of anemones. Other tanks have live fish, rays, crabs, and dozens of varieties of creatures that live in the depths.
When you walk through the front door, look up and you will see the bones of two whales and a sea turtle that has washed up nearby.
“All of our animals are collected locally,” Mace said. “Some of them are by us or students, and we also have anglers who are on our license.”
At the Marine Life Center, different tanks showcase what can be seen at different locations nearby. The tanks show eelgrass life and move to show different creatures as the water gets deeper.
While a big part of the center’s mission is to educate local elementary school students, showcasing local creatures and providing a variety of hands-on opportunities indoors, it also works to help marine biology students. from the University of Oregon.
Every student taking the marine biology program is required to spend time in Charleston, experimenting and helping feed the creatures at the Marine Life Center.
Although education is paramount, for many, seeing, touching and experiencing life in the depths is just a fun experience, which draws the locals in again and again.
The Charleston Marine Life Center is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Mace said she would like to open more days, but first she would need some extra volunteers.
“We rely heavily on the community and benefit from it,” Mace said.
To see what lives underwater in the nearby ocean, plan a trip to Charleston and visit the Marine Life Center, while it remains open.
“Everything you see in these tanks was found here locally,” Mace said.