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Unique donation captures marine life for Okanagan College biology students
Okanagan College Media Release

Marine life donation academicsBiology students at the Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan College are getting a different kind of glimpse into the undersea world, thanks to a unique donation of photographs depicting endangered, and in some cases extinct, marine life.

Marine life donation TatjanaTatjana Schmidt-Derstroff spent the early 1970s diving and snorkeling in some of the world’s most spectacular locations, including the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Framed images she captured from those days are now mounted in the College’s biology lab, featuring shells, coral and other marine life from exotic locations including off the coast of Thursday Island (Arafura Sea), Ningaloo Reef, West Australia (Indian Ocean), Broome, West Australia (Indian Ocean), Flores, Indonesia (Pacific Ocean), Borneo, Indonesia (China Sea), Sri Lanka (Indian Ocean), Kenya, Africa (Indian Ocean), Cook Island, New Zealand (Pacific) Mana Island, off the Fiji Archipelago (South Sea).

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“I wanted the students to see what there is in the world, and appreciate the wonders of nature before they disappear,” said Schmidt-Derstroff, who retired to Salmon Arm and now at age 92 still has vivid memories of her time travelling the world. “These seashells are the architects of the underwater, and I wanted the students to see how very rare these things are that are either already extinct or on the list to becoming extinct.”

The donation also included two large green sea turtle shells along with hundreds of slides of other species.

Biology professor Dr. Michael Mitsch said the donation had an immediate impact on his students.

“We put the photographs up over reading break, and when the students returned it stimulated an invigorating conversation, and lots of questions,” Mitsch said. “They clearly appreciated what this donation adds to the classroom experience.”

Regional Dean Jim Barmby said donations of this kind, from people within the community, help students to appreciate the depth and breadth of what is seldom visible.

“Tatjana has led a fascinating life, full of adventure and discovery,” Barmby said. “I am very happy she is sharing some of it with our students.”

Born in Germany, Schmidt-Derstroff started studying medicine and journalism and, after the war, cultural anthropology and archaeology at a time when very few women were active in those fields.

“Sometimes I was the only white women exploring these countries,” she said.

Schmidt-Derstroff’s donation to Okanagan College is one of several that she’s made in recent years. She has also donated some archaeological objects to the University of Saskatoon. Photographs from her flights in a bush plane, called Earth Art, can be seen at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital. Her paintings were also auctioned off to the BC Cancer Society.

“I wanted to donate to Canada because the country has been good to me,” she said.

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