Community Aquarium Closes After 20 Years in Redondo Beach - NBC Southern California

Community Aquarium Closes After 20 Years in Redondo Beach

Animals not ready for release will be sent to other aquariums and aquatic rehabilitation centers.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Be the Toast of the Breeders’ Cup
    Photo courtesy of the LA Conservation Corps.

    What to Know

    • The Redondo Beach SEA Lab announced that it is closing its doors by the end of June.

    • The program offered free and low-cost marine science and conservation education to children throughout the community since 1997.

    • June events at the SEA Lab, such as Shark Saturday and the Redondo Beach Bluffs Habitat Restoration Volunteer Day, will happen as planned.

    For more than 20 years, children and ocean aficionados could pet sharks, observe jellyfish, and view seahorses give birth to fry at their local Redondo Beach aquarium, but these landlubbers may soon have to go elsewhere to learn about marine life.

    The Redondo Beach SEA Lab, an educational and rehabilitative aquarium that has been a staple in the community for more than two decades, announced that it is closing its doors by the end of June. The program, run by the LA Conservation Corps, offered free and low-cost marine science and conservation education to children throughout the community since 1997.

    "The SEA Lab is leaving behind a legacy of teaching people about the ocean," said LA Conservation Corps spokesman Mike Mena. "The legacy left behind is seeing the light on kids' faces when they get to pet the horn sharks or when they see the moon jellies, which they might only know from 'Spongebob.'"

    According to the LA Conservation Corps, the decision to discontinue the program was made in early June following the acquisition of the aquarium property by Leo Pustilnikov, a real estate investor. Mena said the new owner was allowing the program to occupy the space until the end of the year, but infrequent communication and a lack of a written agreement created uncertainty within the organization.

    Wendy Butts, the CEO of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, said SEA Labs considered relocating to another property, but as a nonprofit, it didn't have the means. Butts said it was difficult to secure grants and donations without location permanency. She added that the organization is appreciative of the support it received from its partnerships and the city of Redondo Beach throughout the years.

    "I'm very disappointed to see the closure of the beloved SeaLab," said Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand in an email. "We did all we could to keep it going but ultimately it is private property that was sold and this whole area is in transition."

    Many of the animals within the SEA Lab facilities will be rehabilitated and released, Mena said. Animals not ready for release will be sent to other aquariums and aquatic rehabilitation centers.

    The Corps is exploring options to keep its members involved in ocean conservation and marine science education in Redondo Beach. Butts said the program allowed members, who are between 18 and 24 years, an opportunity to explore the field and determine if they wanted to pursue it.

    "Our SEA Lab Corpsmembers are extraordinary, passionate, inspiring young adults who have incredible goals ahead of them, many of which they say were sparked by their education, mentorship and empowerment at the SEA Lab," Butts said. "The lightbulb that goes off for all our corps members who are building something positive and shifting toward a passion--that's what I'm saddest to see end."

    Since its inception, the SEA Lab has hosted school field trips, rescued and rehabilitated thousands of fish and marine animals, organized beach clean-ups, and performed ocean habitat maintenance, the LA Conservation Corps said.

    "The SEA Lab's immense breadth of work was to teach people how connected the ocean is to Los Angeles, and the world. We brought kids to the ocean who had never been to it. We took animals to kids that may have never touched an animal before," Butts said.

    The animals currently at the SEA Lab were rescued from a variety of places, Mena said. Throughout the years, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has dropped off rescues and confiscated animals that arrived at LAX, he said.

    Butts said corps members also rescued small marine animals stuck in the wells of the AES power plant across their location. Staff released the healthy animals back to the ocean and rehabilitated injured animals in the aquarium.

    Brand said a new marine research and education facility, in partnership with the LA Conservation Corps, will be established in King Harbor. He added that the city will redevelop the 50-acre AES power plant into a park. Butts said the Corps hopes to work with the city to become that site's educational provider.

    "This is an incredible opportunity and the future of these types of public uses on the Redondo Beach waterfront is very bright," Brand said.

    Mena said he will fondly remember the educational and outreach work the program has accomplished.

    "We don't want there to be sadness. We want a celebration of an organization that served the community well,' Mena said. "We'd like it to be remembered as a place that has educated and delighted children through the years."

    Events scheduled for June at the SEA Lab, such as Shark Saturday and the Redondo Beach Bluffs Habitat Restoration Volunteer Day, will happen as planned.

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