By Pat Sherman
Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography will close its largest exhibit in January to repair cracks in its concrete base, and possibly add new fish to the mix.
Birch’s kelp forest, which mimics Southern California’s diverse marine ecosystem, will be closed from Jan. 6 to Feb. 8.
The $120,000 repair involves draining the 70,000-gallon tank and temporarily relocating fish while workers fix cracks in the rockwork, due to rusting rebar embedded within, which caused the rockwork to expand.
“This is by far our biggest tank,” Birch’s executive director, Nigella Hillgarth, said of the exhibit, which is located halfway through the aquarium and has public seating in front of it.
“It fills up the entire wall,” Hillgarth said. “It’s lovely; you can just sit and look at all the fish.”
The tank, one of about 60 exhibits, contains 200 of the species inhabiting California’s coastal kelp beds, and includes bat rays, black croakers, sheephead, mackerels, yellowtail, giant sea bass, moray eels and leopard, horn and swell sharks.
“This is a really great opportunity for us to do some additions to the rockwork,” said Hillgarth, adding that visitors may also see some new fish faces in the tank when it reopens in February.
“We can’t have all the (local coastal fish) because some of them will eat each other,” she said. “Part of skill is knowing which fish go well together.”\