The Monterey Bay Aquarium celebrates its 25th anniversary on Tuesday, October 20, 2009. Since opening its doors in 1984, the aquarium has welcomed more than 46 million visitors, and distributed over 32 million Seafood Watch guides to sustainable seafood.
Monterey’s opening on October 20, 1984 helped launch a new era in ocean awareness and sparked the “Age of Aquariums” that has spread to more than two dozen cities – from Albuquerque and Atlanta, to Las Vegas and Long Beach.
Since its inception as the dream of a quartet of marine biologists, and its creation with a founding gift from David and Lucile Packard, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been the trendsetter in exhibits, education and conservation leadership. It is routinely ranked as the No. 1 aquarium in the United States, and is a leader in the international aquarium community.
It’s the only institution to successfully exhibit great white sharks, home to the first living kelp forest and the largest living exhibit of deep sea animals ever created. It was a pioneer of jellyfish exhibits that have inspired others around the world.
An interactive timeline features major milestones from inspiration, to construction to the present: www.montereybayaquarium.org/aa/timeline.aspx.
Monterey was the first aquarium to offer special exhibitions, and over the years has engaged the public with spectacular displays of river otters, sharks, deep sea life and seahorses; in addition to highlighting important issues such as overfishing, clean water and healthy habitats. It was also the first to create a dedicated area for children and families – literally a children’s museum inside an aquarium.
Splash Zone: Ocean Homes proved so popular as a special exhibition that it quickly became a permanent addition to the aquarium’s galleries.
As with other institutions born in Silicon Valley, the aquarium continues to stretch the limits of what’s possible with innovative animal husbandry techniques, groundbreaking exhibit design, unique theatrical deck shows and multi-media technologies to engage the visitor in the wonders of the planet’s largest habitat.
The legacy of founder David Packard lives on with a “can do”, “never say never” philosophy, that sees the aquarium constantly pushing the envelope both as an aquarium and a conservation organization.
As an ocean conservation leader, the aquarium is deeply involved in cutting-edge research – and advocacy – to protect sea otters, tunas, white sharks and other threatened ocean animals. Aquarium exhibits helped inspire creation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary – the largest national marine sanctuary in the continental United States – and the aquarium actively supports creation of the largest network of marine protected areas in the U.S., along the California coast.
The aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, in the decade since it was created, is transforming the seafood market by creating demand for ocean-friendly seafood: from consumers, to chefs and restaurants, to large buyers. Among the achievements, Seafood Watch now partners with the nations’ two largest food service companies to shift their buying habits – of millions of pounds of seafood each year – to more sustainable options.
Education and an investment in future ocean stewards is a key component of the aquarium’s philosophy. Since 1984, the aquarium has given free access to over 1.5 million visiting schoolchildren, and works with school groups to offer curriculum-based programming consistent with California science standards.
Aquarium educators offer Teacher Institutes, host home school families and provide opportunities for Head Start toddlers and their families to connect with marine wildlife. Student volunteers engaged in aquarium youth programs have gone on to become marine biologists and educators who in turn are inspiring a new generation of conservation-minded advocates.
The aquarium’s 1, 250 active volunteers, and their thousands of predecessors, have contributed more than 2.7 million hours over the last 25 years: interpreting habitats, marine wildlife and conservation for 1.8 million visitors a year; preparing food for exhibit animals or tracking sea otters in the wild. The expansive volunteer program – a vision of Lucile Packard – has been an essential part of the aquarium from the beginning. The duties of the volunteer are too many to number and too vital to operations to fully acknowledge.
Past volunteers have been inspired to take their passion for conservation to new levels and have become teachers, leaders and decision-makers in ocean policy.
Overfishing, pollution, degradation of habitat and impacts of climate change threaten our ocean today like no time in the past. As the Monterey Bay Aquarium looks forward to the next 25 years of inspiring ocean conservation and motivating action, the challenge has never looked greater.
Through compelling exhibits that connect visitors with living ocean animals, engagement with a membership that totals more than 270, 000 individuals, and the role of an active – and growing – online community, the aquarium will continue to inspire and guide visitors and ocean advocates to promote healthy oceans, now and for future generations.