"When I think back to my childhood, the things that are all vivid in my memory are only things that have to do with marine biology," Layman said. "I remember learning about crustaceans in the fifth grade and doing a worksheet. I remember the actual worksheet."
That was a few years before Sept. 16, 1992, when the Birch Aquarium at Scripps opened its current facility at 2300 Expedition Way. But old habits die hard "“ and Layman, now a Cal State, Long Beach marine biology graduate and the aquarium's public programs coordinator, hopes the venue's first decade and a half has played just as pivotal a role in the lives of the young and curious. And as Birch gears up for its 15-year anniversary celebration on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15 and 16, she notes an educational trend that governs much of the thinking in her industry, one that ideally guarantees the ocean's place as a community classroom for generations to come.
"There is definitely a trend in education to really emphasize conservation in our classes and promote [the idea that] all of our actions do affect the oceans in so many different ways," she said. "We work so closely with our scientists [at Scripps Institution of Oceanography] so that we can really speak to the research that's happening right now to be able to get those words out."
Today, Birch reaches about 75,000 local students a year, many enrolled in programs that can't afford field trips. The aquarium's Planet Earth Express van "” laden with materials for education in marine science "” has become a fixture at such facilities. The van may not have been around in 1992 "“ but Nigella Hillgarth, the aquarium's executive director, said that outreach was as strong an ideal at the facility as it is today.
"[Birch] has grown a lot over the years, but ... it would be really unthinkable to build a new aquarium without outreach in mind," Hillgarth said. "Marine science stimulates natural curiosity. It stimulates literacy and math [acumen]. Studies in the natural world stimulates interest in everything around them and seems to be important for kids, just like the arts."
The celebration starts Friday at 11 a.m. with something called the Green Earth, Blue Ocean Community Fair, during which some 20 local organizations will demonstrate earth-friendliness and our role in it. The event sets the tone for both days, the natural extension of a time in area history, when a San Ysidro grade-schooler set about knocking marine science on its ear with a letter-perfect worksheet on crustaceans (she got an A).
More information on the aquarium's 15th anniversary is available by calling (858) 534-FISH or by visiting www.aquarium.uc