Since 1984 Monterey Bay Aquarium has offered education and entertainment. The California-based site was the brainchild of a group of marine biologists who studied at Stanford University’s marine laboratory.
“They knew it was a pretty remarkable world underwater in Monterey Bay and knew how neat it would be to share that with the public,” said aquarium spokesperson Ken Peterson. He talked to RewardExpert about the aquarium’s background and how it’s changing the world, one day at a time.
A rich history
The aquarium’s beginnings date back to the early 1900s. Monterey became one of the biggest fishing ports in the world during World Wars I and II due to sardine fishing that fed the military and contributed towards agriculture. The industry collapsed mid-century, though it’s still known today as Cannery Row.
Two of the four marine biologists who proposed an idea for the aquarium were actually the daughter and son-in-law of Hewlett Packard co-founder David Packard. The pair used a self-sufficient plan to get the aquarium up and running. Another daughter became the executive director. She’s still in that role 33 years later.
“In the beginning the aquarium had some modest expectations,” Peterson said. “Feasibility studies said you’d maybe get half a million visitors and it’ll pay for itself and people would be interested in what they do. The response from the public was beyond anyone’s imaginings.”
Nearly 2.5 million visited the aquarium since it opened, with education as a foundational commitment. They invited children from private, public and home schools to come and learn for free. Some 75,000 kids come on school visits annually.
Monterey Bay is in pristine condition, Peterson said, with the bay’s seawater pumped 60 feet deep and 1/3 mile off-shore is described as its life blood. More than two million gallons of water is pumped daily. The kelp forest exhibit, which pumps a third of a million gallons, was the first of its kind.
Expansion in the mid-1990s took the aquarium beyond the shore, resulting in Open Sea galleries. Passersby can watch large schooling fish, like tuna and sharks, up close and personal.
While the aquarium has no whale or dolphin exhibits, all visitors have to do is look off its back decks to Monterey Bay itself: Dolphins are jumping, whales are spouting, otters are resting on their backs, and seals are relaxing. “We’re considered the best and most innovative aquarium in the world,” he said.
The non-profit aquarium has one major mission: to inspire conservation. That occurs via exhibits, educational programs, training science teachers and encouraging teens to be future conservationists.
Currently, an active research program is researching how to protect sea creatures from sharks to otters. It has worked for public policy at local, state and federal levels to protect the ocean and its creatures by reducing plastic pollution in waterways as well as other ways. Also, it’s inspired more conscious decisions when shopping for seafood.
In terms of legislation, it has supported banning shark fin trade bans, plastic grocery bags in California and microbeads in personal care products.
Membership perks and being environmentally conscious
A big chunk of the aquarium’s membership are from the San Francisco Bay area.
Peterson said memberships pay for themselves if individuals come twice per year, and perks include: Extended hours, which can be beneficial during big crowd times in the summer and on holidays; special member nights, like an after-hours over-21 party this September, member’s only holiday parties and Halloween parties; and behind-the-scenes tours of animals.
“We have sleepovers and families can literally sleep with the fishes,” he said.
The aquarium is always evolving, he said, such as devoting an exhibit to deep sea creatures in 2020. An ocean education center is being built to offer double the amount of educational programming, all in an effort to double the amount of science teachers in the future and battle elements like climate change.
“A huge amount of what we’re doing now is working towards ocean conservation,” Peterson said. “We know probably better than anyone the threats that are facing marine life today, and our business in the aquarium is to put people face to face with marine life so they come to love them as much as we do.”