An innovative community-based hub dedicated to marine and freshwater research is about to get off the ground on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast after nearly a decade of work.

The Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station (PODS) will be a hot spot for aquatic research and marine conservation initiatives to counter the climate crisis’ impacts on biodiversity, said Michael Jackson, executive director of the Loon Foundation.

Research will focus on environmental health, preserving species at risk, maintaining and enhancing biodiversity, and clarifying ecosystem responses to climate change and ocean acidification, he said.

Construction on the net-zero facility, about 100 kilometres north of Vancouver, can now get underway this fall thanks to a $1.2-million donation by the Wilson 5 Foundation, Jackson said. The foundation is the private philanthropic arm of retail clothing mogul Chip Wilson and his family, who also have a home on the Sunshine Coast.

“They are a wonderful family and they are doing a huge amount for helping preserve biodiversity on the coast,” Jackson said. “It’s a big commitment and a very welcome one, too.”

The Loon Foundation origins started with freshwater and watershed conservation after a successful community effort to protect the Ruby Lake lagoon and wetlands 15 kilometres north of Pender Harbour. But the PODS facility — which will become part of a network of other coastal research stations — will act as a long-overdue base for the foundation’s growing array of work around marine ecosystems.

For example, PODS is already working in tandem with the Pacific Crab Research Group in Washington state and the Hakai Institute further north on the B.C. coast, contributing to a study of Dungeness crab in the Salish Sea. The project relies on light traps that turn on at night, attracting the larval crabs, which get caught up and counted before being released to assess population levels in various regions.

The proposed Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station (PODS), illustrated above, is slated to open in 2025 and act as a hub for aquatic research and marine conservation initiatives to counter climate change impacts on biodiversity. Photo submitted.

“We’ve spent the best part of 22 years working in the community, doing all sorts of things like monitoring, research and education connected to nature,” Jackson said.

The Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station is set to become a hot spot for aquatic research and monitoring climate change impacts on marine ecosystems after getting a $1.2-million donation from the Wilson 5 Foundation.

The foundation also runs nearly a dozen coastal waters monitoring programs that rely on hundreds of volunteers, citizen scientists, students and researchers to help assess climate change effects on forage fish populations, eelgrass beds, intertidal seaweed and juvenile salmon or track invasive species such as the European green crab.

The PODS facility will build on already existing relationships with post-secondary institutions at Capilano and Simon Fraser universities, so students can employ the station for field work and coastal research, Jackson said.

The PODS design, in the finishing stages now, includes an event space for 200 people. It will also act as a hub for the Pender Harbour community, functioning as an emergency response site and emergency shelter for residents as well as a hub for a park-and-ride electric bus route.

“PODS is very deliberately a community centre, as well,” Jackson said, adding construction should be complete by the summer of 2025.

The research facility also wants to become a nexus between arts and science, hosting art, cultural and educational events as one way to broaden understanding of coastal ecosystems and science. This in turn will help boost the local economy, increase awareness of ocean stewardship and attract young families to settle in the region, he added.

The Wilson family agreed, saying they hoped their donation will benefit the region’s future generations.

“It’s our hope [our donation] will inspire others to support the Sunshine Coast community and B.C.’s ongoing efforts to protect its incredible natural beauty,” Chip and Summer Wilson said in a press statement.

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer