Lou Van Guelpen helped deliver this thresher shark to the Atlantic Reference Centre research museum in St. Andrews.

St. Andrews museum recognized as world class
Prize Little known to the public, reference centre provides deep sea samples to researchers all over

Dec 21/09

    ST. ANDREWS - Some strangelooking creatures inhabit the depths off the Atlantic coast of Canada and the northeast United States.
   A scientist looking for a rare species can likely find it at the Atlantic Reference Centre research museum in St. Andrews, says Lou Van Guelpen, curator of fishes and collections manager.
   Not many of the public in Charlotte County know about the reference centre, but marine biologists around the world do, Van Guelpen said.
   "It's not a public museum, it's what you would see behind the scenes at a public museum."
   Recently the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment gave one of its two annual Visionary Awards for New Brunswick to the reference centre.
   The centre took the annual award in the group category and Peter Etheridge of Millbrook won in the individual category. Provincial Environment Minister Rock Miles and Fisheries Minister Rick Doucet officially presented the awards in Fredericton at the legislature last week.
   The Atlantic Reference Centre, part of the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, came about in 1984 through an amalgamation of the Huntsman centre's ichthyological laboratory and the marine species identification centre next door at the federal Fisheries and Oceans Biological Station, Van Guelpen said.
   The biological station began operations in 1908, the Huntsman centre next door in 1969. Over the years the neighbouring institutions accumulated samples of sea creatures, which they stored in bottles and tanks on shelves here, there and elsewhere.
   While the Huntsman accumulated specimens at the ichthyological laboratory, the biological station amassed what Van Guelpen calls "a very nice local collec tion" at the identification centre.
   They amalgamated their efforts to bring order to this growing collection, giving birth to the reference centre - "a research museum for Canadian Atlantic marine life and a centre for biodiversity information and applied environmental research;' the official brochure states.
   The Fisheries and Oceans Department provides facilities and partial funding while the Huntsman provides staff, additional finding and program administration.
   Five people manage this collection of 150,000 and growing catalogued lots. One lot can number many specimens, Van Guelpen noted.
   It amounts to the best collection of algae, invertebrates and fishes from fresh and saltwater from the Davis Strait south to Cape Cod, Mass. While Van Guelpen looks after fish species, Gerhard Pohle takes care of invertebrates.
   Atlantic Reference Centre staff process and identifies specimens, provides information; advice and research to government, universities, museums, private institutions and the public; and trains students, technicians and researchers.
   The reference centre lends specimens out to researchers much like a library. Specimens can keep forever properly preserved in alcohol, Van Guelpen said.
   No museum could hope to amass a complete collection of flora and fauna from a swath of ocean this big, but the reference centre is working on it.
   Besides the specimens that scientists at the biological station and the Huntsman centre provide, the reference centre collects some on its own, too.
   "We are the ultimate repository for those type of things," Van Guelpen said.
   The museum does not have complete historical coverage of all specimens from different eras, nor complete geographic coverage - the same species from different areas-"but we have strong representations of some things," he said.
   The reference centre has a particularly good collection of deep sea fishes, as well as of benthos, animals in the sediment on the sea floor, Van Guelpen said.
   By "deep sea" he means more than 1,000 metres down. Scientists drag the bottom to bring plants and animals up from that deep.
   The rarest specimens in the reference centre would "probably be some of the deep sea crabs," Van Guelpen said." I don't know how rare they are but they are not caught that often."
   The Gulf of Maine Council recognized the reference centre for its collection, but could have acknowledged it for the work it does for providing information on biodiversity, now available online, Van Guelpen said.
   The centre is taking part in the 10-year Census of Marine Life involving research scientists in 80 countries. The information is available on Google Earth.
   No money comes with the award, but the reference centre appreciatesthe recognition nonetheless.
   "It's recognized as a world class museum," Van Guelpen said.
   Two other New Brunswickers accepted Gulf of Maine Council awards in New Hampshire earlier this month.
   Byron James, deputy minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, received the Susan Snow Cotter Award honouring coastal management professionals who exemplify outstanding leadership or exceptional mentoring in the Gulf of Maine watershed.
   The Fundy North F ishermen's Association received the Gulf of Maine Industry Award recognizing innovation and leadership to improve the well-being of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and the communities in it.
   Geographers consider the Bay of Fundy an extension of the Gulf of Maine.

HUNTSMAN MARINE SCIENCE CENTRE This is the head of a portsbeagle shark, one of the many species at the Atlantic Reference Centre research museum in St. Andrews.

HUNTSMAN MARINE SCIENCE CENTRE Gerhard Pohle at the Atlantic Reference Centre research museum in St. Andrews works on a deep sea crab.