The Monterey Bay Aquarium, https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/about-us
The Monterey Bay Aquarium
Last week, my husband and I played hooky and took a day trip to the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s an amazing place, full of breathtaking displays of the otherworldly life in tide pools and the open ocean. We particularly enjoyed watching the sea otters work their food out of plastic puzzles intended to keep their paws flexible and engage their minds. We touched a sea urchin, marveled at a transplanted kelp forest, and assigned anthropomorphic feelings of depression to Gerry, the only uncoupled penguin.
The aquarium is located at the end of cannery row, an area made famous by local writer John Steinbeck, whose tiny cabin is located just a stone’s throw from today’s museum. Though today, the area is billed as full of “luxurious waterfront hotels, enticing restaurants and captivating boutiques,” Steinbeck’s work reminds us that the area was once teeming with corrugated fish canning factories, where a largely immigrant population worked.
Workers in a cannery, https://canneryrow.com/our-story/the-canneries
Starting in the early 1900s, a spike in demand for canned sardines during World War I sparked the growth of a boomtown that slowed during the Depression and was revived again for World War II, just long enough to decimate the sardine population, sending the area into ruin. Restoration and revival efforts resulting in the tourist-friendly attractions that are there today began in the late 1960s.
Opened in 1984, with funding from the Packard family of Hewlett-Packard fame, the non-profit aquarium is located in a reconstructed and redesigned sardine canning factory that has earned architectural awards. Some of the equipment from that time is included in a display along with tanks of fish. The aquarium is renowned for its laser focus on the regional marine ecosystem and its research and ocean conservation projects have influenced the field, including helping to designate Monterey Bay a federally protected marine sanctuary. Their Seafood Watch program helps consumers make sustainable choices when they are shopping or out to dine.
The “irony” of the aquarium’s location in the same building that played a significant role in overfishing has been noted since its inception. But I’d choose a different word: Hope.
Heidi Hackford explores how past and present intersect.