Protecting Coral Reefs: See research in action at new La Jolla’s Birch Aquarium exhibit

Birch Aquarium’s new exhibit, ‘Research in Action: 100 Island Challenge,’ doubles as a laboratory for SIO scientists studying coral.

A new exhibit in the Hall of Fishes at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego is unlike any other in the history of the aquarium. More than a display, “Research in Action: 100 Island Challenge” is also a working laboratory for SIO scientists studying coral.

The exhibit serves as an experimental reef that allows scientists to develop coral research techniques and test equipment and ideas before traveling to remote locations. In addition to enjoying the display, aquarium guests will be able to meet scientists and see prototype digital cameras and underwater robotic equipment before it’s deployed in the field.

“The new approaches used in ‘Research in Action: The 100 Island Challenge’ are designed to create deeper connections between our visitors and the beautiful and often complex habitats that exist in the wild,” said Harry Helling, aquarium executive director.

SIO scientists have taken on the gargantuan task of collecting coral reef data from 100 tropical islands around the world to understand how reefs are adapting to the rapidly changing planet and what the future holds for these important habitats. While a majority of reefs have been negatively impacted by climate change, ocean acidification and human activities, others seem to be rebounding, and a few are even thriving. The big question for scientists is “why”?

“We now have a coral reef in our back yard, allowing us to work in the tropics without leaving San Diego, all the while sharing the discovery process with visitors to Birch Aquarium,” said marine biologist Stuart Sandin.

“Research in Action” features an Indo-Pacific coral reef habitat, and was designed with sustainability in mind, featuring both artificial and nursery-grown corals. Birch Aquarium has propagated and raised coral in captivity for more than 20 years through the Coral Propagation Program and many of these home-grown corals are on display. The exhibit, which also features 500 Indo-Pacific Ocean coral community fish, was made possible through a gift from an anonymous donor.

IF YOU GO: “Research in Action: 100 Island Challenge,” is included in aquarium admission, $18.50 for adults, $14 for ages 3-17, at 2300 Expedition Way. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. (858) 534-FISH.