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A look inside the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium from 2012 (photo: John Mattera Photography)

Raising children in an oceanfront port town has its perks, one being it is home to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. My children’s lives have been enhanced by years of visits to the aquarium and summers spent as docents. The aquarium staff has provided guidance and knowledge to my children as they have essentially grown up through their many programs and volunteer opportunities.

When my sons were babies, I took them to the aquarium on a regular basis. When family members were in town, we would meander through the aquarium, spending time at the touch tank demonstration or watching the gunnels, a personal favorite. Just when we thought we had seen it all there, we discovered something new to learn. After work on Wednesdays, when my kids were toddlers, we would stop by the aquarium to watch the animals being fed. Staff would often let my kids feed the abalone seaweed. A benefit of this small aquarium is the personal touch offered to the visitors.

Our family has attended the famous Whale Fiesta on many occasions. This is where we learned how to make sea creatures out of duct tape. We always fell short of the grand prize in the infamous duct tape sculpture contest but most importantly had fun together creating art. One year during family sandcastle building day, we built an Egyptian pyramid and a sphinx and somehow won first place. It was an upset to many who were competing, but the coveted plaque proudly hangs in our home. 

When my kids attended Point Fermin Marine Science Magnet Elementary School, the students would walk from the school to the aquarium on a regular basis. They would visit the tide pools with aquarium staff or examine marine life under microscopes. My son volunteered as a Sea Ranger and helped hatch grunion eggs and led demonstrations with thousands of visitors at the grunion run. The aquarium was always a safe place for the kids to grow and learn. As my kids got older, the aquarium became more of their place, and I gave them their space but was on call for when they needed a ride home.

Both of my kids have gained skills and knowledge by participating in the Summer Docent Program every summer. The program is for children entering 7th–12th grades, and applications are processed in April prior to summer. To apply for the program, students must complete an essay, application, resumé with referrals, and an interview which are great skills for future job applicants. The docents spend a week training with other students from a variety of schools. There is an emphasis on marine science, public speaking, and teamwork. After the training, docents give group tours to schools and groups and lead demonstrations like at the touch tank.

My children spent summers giving tours and making meaningful relationships with other docents. It has a summer camp feel without the overnight part, with caring aquarium staff inspiring and guiding docents to learn and grow. 

While the aquarium has been closed since March 13 due to the COVID-19 crisis, they have convened a reopening task force to ensure all safety measures are in place when they reopen. The staff has been busy taking care of the marine life, refurbishing areas in the aquarium, fundraising, and being part of the City of Los Angeles’ emergency response to COVID-19. Aquarium educators will soon be teaching at daycare centers set up for the children of first responders. Children at each of the 48 sites will be able to hatch live grunion eggs and learn about the ocean. The gift shop has a new virtual store and has recently opened its actual store practicing protocols to keep everybody safe. The shop has a wide variety of gift items and proceeds benefit the aquarium.  

The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is a San Pedro icon with staff and volunteers who inspire respect and conservation of our local marine life. Thousands of school children visit the aquarium every year. I am forever thankful for the resources they have provided to my children and to our friends in the sea.  spt

Please consider supporting the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium by donating or visiting their virtual store at friendsofcabrilloaquarium.org.

photo of san pedro today author Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez can be reached at  jennifertmarquez@yahoo.com  and @jenntmqz on Twitter and Instagram.

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