Fisheries researchers prepare for move to new La Jolla digs

The new SWFSC complex features similarly breathtaking ocean views as its former site across La Jolla Scenic Drive North. The new complex includes energy-saving photovoltaic cells, recycled materials and green roofs planted with California coastal chaparral.
The new SWFSC complex features similarly breathtaking ocean views as its former site across La Jolla Scenic Drive North. The new complex includes energy-saving photovoltaic cells, recycled materials and green roofs planted with California coastal chaparral.
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The new SWFSC complex features similarly breathtaking ocean views as its former site across La Jolla Shores Drive. The new complex includes energy-saving photovoltaic cells, recycled materials and green roofs planted with California coastal chaparral.

New SWFSC building features

■ Experimental aquariums, an animal necropsy lab, specimen processing lab, photogrammetry lab, genetic labs, physiology labs, oceanographic labs, specimen archives, a library, conference rooms, green roofs, office space for 275 scientists and support staff, and a two-story tank for testing new research methods.

■ Online:

swfsc.noaa.gov

By Pat Sherman

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) were leery — if not teary-eyed — at the prospect of vacating the breezy, oceanfront facility their institution has occupied for five decades.

However, as SWFSC’s state- of-the-art replacement facility began to take shape across the street, staff grew keen to occupy the new locale.

The new building, located directly across La Jolla Shores Drive from SWFSC’s current, cliff-hugging complex, was designed to replicate and enhance its existing work environment.

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NOAA’s new Southwest Fisheries Science Center facility was constructed into a hairpin turn on the upper east side of La Jolla Shores Drive. Crews removed 14,000 dump trucks of dirt while excavating the site.

“You can see how open and free this building is,” said SWFSC Assistant Director Roger Hewitt, standing on a walkway above the interior courtyard of the old, four- building facility, which includes a grove of Eucalyptus trees. “It’s antithetical to an uptight, closed, secure federal building. ... It’s got lots of natural lighting and lots of natural ventilation. It’s a very nice place to work and it’s conducive to these ad-hoc, spontaneous conversations.

“The challenge for the architects,” Hewitt said, “was to recreate this space across the street and still meet all the new standards for federal security” while working with the steep grade of the 3.3-acre site.

While awaiting the move, staff once working in the old buildings are occupying leased space near UC San Diego.

The move has been inevitable since El Niño winter of 1997-98, which exacerbated erosion of the 200-foot cliff on which the SWFSC facility was situated.

After the move is complete, three of the buildings will be torn down and the land reverted to UCSD ownership. Parking and native vegetation will be added to the site, and at least one coastal lookout established at the southern edge of the property, as mitigation for Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s adjacent Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling laboratory (currently under construction). A ground lease on the new site was gained through a land-swap with UC San Diego, which granted NOAA the deed for the old site in the 1960s.

A fresh start

The new, five-story facility, built into La Jolla Shores Drive’s hairpin turn, is approximately 287,000 square feet, with about 90,000 square feet of interior and adjacent parking.

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Southwest Fisheries Science Center Assistant Director Roger Hewitt stands on a balcony of the old facility, perched on a 200-foot bluff on the La Jolla coast.

Its lower level is mainly comprised of labs, from a necropsy room where researchers can perform autopsies to determine why a dolphin or seal died, to about 60 experimental aquariums, where the populations of everything from sea bass to abalone can be monitored under a variety of conditions.

“It just depends on what we’ve got an interest in, and what we’ve got money to pursue,” Hewitt said.

The data can be used to determine how much fish can be harvested without depleting a population.

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NOAA marine mammal specialists create hydrophone arrays, which they tow behind research vessels to listen for whale vocalizations.

A first-floor specimen storage room contains samples dating back to the 1930s, including large amounts of ichthyoplankton (fish eggs and larvae), which helps with population estimates.

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