A New Set of Wheels


San Diego streets are a bit fishier these days.

That’s because Birch Aquarium at Scripps educators are behind the wheel of a new colorful outreach van that brings the magic of the ocean to children all over the county – and beyond.

The ocean-blue van, which hit the pavement in late October, looks like a moving kelp forest painted with vibrant garibaldi, a giant sea bass, and leopard sharks. Inside is a state-of-the-art life-support system that allows aquarium educators to bring tide-pool animals such as sea urchins, hermit crabs, snails, and sea stars into classrooms as far as Arizona.

The new van is now the aquarium’s primary outreach vehicle, replacing a decade-old van that reached tens of thousands of children during its years of service. A private donor supplied the $50,000 needed to purchase, design, and outfit the van. It honors the memory of Jeanette Weatherly Merrill and Glenn Walter Merrill, ocean enthusiasts and teachers who loved sharing the wonders of tide pool animals with children.

For many students, Birch Aquarium’s outreach programs are the only exposure they get to marine biology and oceanography — both in their academic careers and personal lives. Shrinking school budgets reduce opportunities for classroom field trips to the aquarium. Aquarium educators also meet students who have never been to the beach, despite living only a few miles away.

Birch Aquarium’s dynamic programs are designed for students in grades ranging from preschool to high school, and all programs are aligned with state and national science standards. In the classroom, aquarium educators introduce students to local marine ecosystems or to a group of animals through interactive investigation and hands-on exploration.

“The van is essential to our reaching out to the community,” Birch Aquarium Education Manager Kristin Evans said. “It allows us to connect with those who can't come to us.”

- Jessica Z. Crawford

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