Students Have a
Whale of a Summer
For the longest time mankind has made his home on the solid shores of terra firma. Yet the oceans give us so much” says Priscilla Kiessig, executive director of the Avila Sea Life Center Aquarium. The center that has been providing marine science education for the last 11 years opened an aquarium last April.
The aquarium also aims to inspire the curiosity of children through hands-on experiments and re-invigorate for all ages a connection between people and the oceans. “Our goal is to bring the miracle of the sea to the public”, Kiessig said. “Avila has such a diversity we wanted to expose everyone in the area to the riches of marine life.”
Since the center is small, visitors can get up close to explore on their own with the touch tanks that includes, sea stars, anomies, crabs, an octopus as well as the sharks and rays.
This summer Sea U has been hosting a summer camp for ages 7 to 12. Abbie Reichner, a center instructor, said she wants students to know the local animals. “It’s fun teaching the kids in a relaxed setting. I know they enjoy all our activities.”
Ali Burkhead, 7, said she liked petting the Swell Shark that felt like sandpaper. Reichner noted that these sharks are docile and more accessible than the rays that can be a bit reticent. Yet Ali said she learned a lot at the aquarium. “The sharks like to go down to the bottom of the sea like rocks and puff up. And the rays sting when they get scared.”
Elliot Hoving, 10, said he does not get to the beach often so he appreciates the chance to spend a week at the aquarium. “I’m looking forward to the treasure hunt at the end of the week because I like figuring out all the clues. The clues are the best part of that day.”
Despite the excitement of the new aquarium it has not been all smooth sailing for Avila Beach. In 1992 what was thought to be a small leak in the Chevron Oil holding tanks at the Unocal (now Cal Poly) Pier was discovered. By ’99 it was found to be a lot bigger problem and despite years of recovery all of Main Street had to dug up to retrieve the oil.
“It was a huge impact affecting all the businesses on Main Street. A lot of the residents had to move and it affected tourism too. So now when people visit they see the Avila of today but we want everybody to know the history.” said Kiessig
There were 400,000 gallons of oil spilled and it cost $3 million to clean up. Over the last 50 years Avila Beach has seen numerous changes. While commercial fisherman caught a variety of species decades ago now it is mostly sport fishermen who angle for rockfish.
“It’s an amazing jewel of a town. It’s a lot more than just what people would guess looking at the beach. We want students to know about the Chumash, the seashell people, the original settlers. They called Avila, Hole in the Sky, because when the surrounding area is all foggy we get great weather.”
Time has seen great changes in the oceans, likely from human activity. So the community is starting a conservation corps, a chance for volunteers to clean up the beaches.
“We’ve always had a community that’s personally involved with stewardship. The stronger their relationship with the ocean the more they’ll care for it. Their conservation will come naturally if they love the place where they live”, Kiessig said
The Sea Life Center is located at 50 San Juan Street in Avila Beach. For more information call (805) 595-7280 or visit: www.sealifecenter.org.