The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been a big tourist draw in California since it opened nearly 40 years ago. It would usually be packed with families this time of year. But it’s been closed since March because of COVID-19 and the wildfires that followed. Many staff members have been laid off or furloughed. It’s unclear when the aquarium will be able to reopen.
Cynthia Vernon, Chief Operating Officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, says the institution has lost up to $45 million in revenue this year, which means many research programs (including Seafood Watch) had to be cut.
“This has really been devastating for us in terms of our ability to contribute to our mission, which is to inspire conservation of the ocean,” says Vernon. “So we’re doing the best we can. … Our policy team has been very active in continuing to advocate for plastic pollution bills. … But we certainly have to dial back a lot of our programs, from conservation science to education.”
Vernon says the aquarium’s work is funded via visitor admission fees, grants and donations. “We certainly hope that things will come back,” she adds.
The good news: The aquarium’s animals have been active and healthy, and the public can watch them thanks to web cams. “We have about 10 different web cams that are in our kelp forests, our penguins, our sea otters, our jellies. So lots of people are tuning in for a bit of relaxation or their animal fix for the day,” says Vernon.
The aquarium even offers guided meditation featuring jellyfish.
When does Vernon anticipate reopening? She says staff are ready and prepared. “We’ve put in all of the various protocols, procedures, and modifications that are necessary to keep visitors and our staff and our animals safe and healthy. We’re just waiting to be able to do that, given the new guidelines that the governor has put out just recently.”
— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin