Aquarium director hints at renewal plans at La Jolla Shores meeting


As a special guest during the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) pre-meeting catered reception July 11 on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus, Birch Aquarium executive director Harry Helling talked about the past, present and future of the Aquarium.

He opened by joking “I feel embarrassed to even talk about the past (to this group), as many of you here know it better than I could possibly tell.” But, he continued, the Aquarium is in its fourth incarnation and eyeing a revitalization.

The first aquarium was built in 1905 as the first building of what would become the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) campus. When it was constructed, a charter clause stated that an aquarium must always be on site.

“The reason they did that is to have the aquarium be what connects science to the community and to keep people engaged,” Helling said. “I will tell you, that story line hasn’t changed. We still exist to do that work, and today, that work is more important than ever.”

With almost 5,000 animals in its care, the Aquarium hosts 480,000 people per year. “So our little aquarium, small but mighty as it is, has a very powerful reach. We are most proud of our innovative education and conservation programs,” he said.

Currently, the Aquarium is working to develop a new coral reef exhibit. But, Helling said it is not like any other: “It’s not designed to be an exhibit, it is a research space. We are now able to 3-D print a coral reef exactly, which we will start putting into our tanks.”

Looking forward, the Aquarium plans to redevelop once again through what Helling called a “revitalization” project.

“We have now begun, with a small grant, to start working with some architects. We are about three-quarters of the way through some conceptual plans to create a world-class aquarium and science center, but stay at our community size.”

Birch Aquarium marketing director Beth Chee later told La Jolla Light there was no further information available for the public. “We don’t have any information yet on our website, since (these are the) early days for the project and the scope is still unknown. We will most likely be making a public announcement in the fall, when we know more,” she said.

In other LJSA news:

Parking permit proposal: Resident Kate Adams asked the board to take up the idea of “resident parking permits” that would establish restricted parking times for guests and visitors, without the same restriction for residents with the parking pass. She said she has spoken to neighbors and many seem to be in favor of the idea, and would be willing to pay for the permit.

While the board agreed to discuss it during the next monthly meeting, District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry’s rep Mauricio Medina cautioned the board: “It is a very long and complicated process. The City has to look at adjoining streets, because once you limit parking on one street (there is a domino effect) and that would require City Council action.”

Lifeguard report: Marine Safety Lt. Rich Stropky provided a post-Fourth of July report. While it is illegal to camp in the park overnight and have tents with four sides down at the beach, he said, thousands nevertheless flocked to Kellogg Park the night before and on Independence Day, unaware the annual fireworks show had been canceled.

“We know the tents are an issue,” Stropky said. “We got a lot of attention from the San Diego Police Department, and there were six officers between Scripps Park and here. That was unprecedented. I addressed the question of tents but the police just don’t have the staff (to effectively manage the situation). We wish people would abide by the law, but it is just out of control.”

He added that thus far, this summer has been “moderate” in terms of cliff and water rescues.

Bry on bikes: City Council member Bry was in attendance to speak out against the Mayor’s short-term vacation rental ordinance ahead of the July 16 vote, and to talk about the dockless vehicles that have plagued The Shores. Bry said she hopes to present an ordinance with a fee structure in the fall. The fees would pay for infrastructure, such as bike lanes, additional enforcement, and data collection.

Map update: As soon as September, Shores residents could get a first glimpse of the LithoMoasic creations that will make up the Map educational installation at Kellogg Park. The installation would include fish mosaics that represent what can be found out to sea off La Jolla Shores, imbedded in the ground.

Friends of La Jolla Shores president Mary Coakley Munk said examples of these fish would be on site during the board’s September meeting reception. “Most of the species that are going to be on The Map are completed, and there are over 100,” she reported. “We are working with Birch to make sure we aren’t missing anything. We’re hoping to have it completed by the end of this year or early next year. The installation will last 4-6 weeks, but those details are still out there.”

The original Map used bronze imbeds and beads of varying color to topographically show ocean depths and marine life out at sea. It was removed from its home in Kellogg Park in 2015 after it began to crumble and pose a safety hazard.

There will be a “surprise” program in August ahead of the Shores meeting, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8 at Martin Johnson House of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 8840 Biological Grade.