Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Engages, Educates

Recently, LA Stormwater sat down with Mike Schaadt, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s Director, to learn more about the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and the many engaging and educational programs and exhibits offered at the San Pedro aquarium. From the Sea Scare, a Halloween-themed ocean celebration planned later this month to winter whale watching, from an aquatic nursery to seasonal Meet the Grunion runs, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, touted by one marine educator as the “finest teaching aquarium in the world,” offers something for everyone!

LA Stormwater: Tell us a little bit about Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

Mike Schaadt: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (CMA) started as the Cabrillo Marine Museum in the bathhouse at Cabrillo Beach in 1935 and is owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles, Recreation and Parks Department with support from Friends of CMA. We moved to the present facility, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, in 1981. Our mission is to engage all visitors in education, recreation and research to promote knowledge, appreciation and conservation of the marine life of Southern California. About 300,000 guests visit CMA every year and about 150,000 of those guests are school-aged children on free tours or low cost classes. Our aquariums, filled with live local ocean life, are certainly our more popular exhibits. We focus on the lesser known animals in our livingCabrillo.touch.tank collection (fish and invertebrates). A must see exhibit is our tide pool touch tank where guests can touch live local tide pool organisms to get to know how they feel. Popular programs include our free public festivals like Autumn Sea Fair, Whale Fiesta and Earth Day. The CMA Spring Outdoor Program is our most popular school field trip during which we see 1,000 students a day, Tuesday-Friday for nine weeks. Seasonal programs include whale watching in the winter and Meet the Grunion in the spring and summer.

Over the years we have refined our programs and exhibits with special emphasis on helping teachers make connections to the State Science Standards they teach in their classrooms. We have also made great strides in including guests in the process of science whether it be young scientist research interns in our Aquatic Nursery or inviting citizen scientists to work side by side with CMA professional staff as we assess population changes in our local tide pools or salt marsh.

LA Stormwater: What are you most proud of at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium?

Mike Schaadt: Aquarium and zoo colleagues often refer to CMA as the teaching aquarium (one aquarium director called CMA the “finest teaching aquarium in the world”). The resources we devote to informal science education in virtually every facet of CMA is a testament to our commitment to helping people learn more about the ocean. I am very proud that CMA provides learning opportunities that can lead to people make informed decisions on what they can do to help the ocean be a healthy place for ocean residents and people.

LA Stormwater: You are an avid ocean swimmer and swim in the waters off San Pedro weekly. What changes have you noticed in the water quality / marine life?

Mike Schaadt: I have been swimming at Cabrillo Outer Beach since May 1, 1989. From my first swim I noticed the water quality of the outer beach to be clean. In fact the Outer Beach has received Blue Wave Beach designation from the Clean Beaches Initiative which recognizes beaches for cleanliness in the water and on the sand. It is ironic that a mere 100 yards away across the breakwater Cabrillo Inner Beach regularly receives bad grades for water quality. The Port of Los Angeles has worked diligently with many agencies for years to try to identify the sources causing the quality to be so bad. Even more frustrating is that the Port has spent millions of dollars on best guess solutions without much success. The Port continues to seek a solution.

One condition that I have noticed over the years is that Cabrillo Outer Beach can be much colder than adjacent coastal areas. It seems oceanographic conditions just off this east side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula cause the temperature of the water at Cabrillo Outer Beach to be five to 10 degrees colder than surrounding coastal areas. Changes in marine life take on annual cycles with cold winter water having low visibility due to turbidity caused by storms and warm summer water that can be either very clear or low visibility due to phytoplankton blooms. Years with warm water events (like El Nino years) bring in various animals like pelagic red crabs, Humboldt squid and black sea nettles from southern latitudes. It makes for an annual cycling of animals moving through the transition zone of the Southern California Bight.

LA Stormwater: Tell us about any upcoming fall and winter programs planned for Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

Mike Schaadt: Fall brings popular programs to CMA like the Autumn Sea Fair where we celebrate the ocean and Sea Scare, San Pedro’s most popular ocean Halloween celebration. Free school tours start October 1. Our Weekend Tidepool Walks (conducted in English and Spanish) take advantage of seasonal daytime low tides. Whalewatch programs begin December 26th where people can board a boat and go out to look for migrating gray whales and other marine mammals. Our Meet the Grunion programs start in early March. For over 60 years we have been inviting people to Cabrillo Beach to see grunion fish ride waves onto the wet sand to spawn.

LA Stormwater: In your opinion what is LA doing well in the area of improving its regional water quality and protecting marine life? What can we do better?

Mike Schaadt: It is a real challenge to protect and improve regional water quality with so many people living so close to natural coastal environments. The Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Act were all federal legislation passed in the early 1970s to protect America’s ocean and waterways. Forty years later we are still working to implement all necessary changes to old processes and designs that will meet the intent of those groundbreaking pieces of legislation. Meanwhile, changes already made have resulted in huge improvements in the water quality of our local ocean habitats. We still have more to do to make sure that our ocean water is clean and provides healthy environments for the animals and plants that live there and the people that work and play in and around the ocean. The next level of improvement for our coastal waters is to deal with how stormwater from the land is released into the ocean. Current plans for improving the management of stormwater is just as controversial as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Magnuson-Stevens Act were over 40 years ago. Most critics of improving the management of stormwater say that it is too expensive. As a society we need to be innovative and bold in our plans for improving the management of stormwater. Investments we make today and into the future will determine the healthiness of coastal habitats for generations to come.

Cabrillo.Mike.Schaadt.EthanLA Stormwater: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium has grown a lot since its humble beginnings. Where would you like to see the aquarium in the next 25 years?

Mike Schaadt: As CMA enters its 79th year of engaging visitors in learning about Southern California marine life, we are putting the final touches on a Master Plan for the next 15-20 years. Plans reaffirm CMA’s commitment to our current mission of remaining the teaching aquarium focusing on Southern California ocean habitats while setting the stage for improved ways to engage our visitors.

Improvements to our front entrance will engage visitors from the moment they walk in. All-new exhibits in the Susanne Lawrenz-Miller Marine Habitat Exhibit Hall will tell stories to draw visitors in to an understanding of how special marine habitats are in Southern California. We will be implementing more public programming in our surrounding Cabrillo Coastal Park where visitors can see and interact with natural coastal habitats. We are preparing to partner with AltaSea, a world-class marine research center in the Port of Los Angeles to open in 2019. CMA could help AltaSea interact with guests in their visitor center which focuses on the research being conducted by resident scientists. With hard work and these well-conceived plans, CMA’s future is bright!

Photos courtesy of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and Department of Public Works.



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