Panamic cushion star attaches itself to the glass of
the Baja's Coral Reef display at the Monterey Bay
Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., on Wednesday, March 9,
2016. The exhibit called "Viva Baja!"
features five different galleries showcasing both
sea and land creatures of Baja as well as hands-on
interactives for all ages.
Baja! Get a gander at a fanged green moray eel, a bug-eyed
bluespotted jawfish and a regal orange Pacific seahorse,
all floating through the majesty of their nautical realm.
These are just a few of the whimsical and beautiful
creatures you’ll encounter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s
new "Viva Baja! Life on the Edge" exhibit, which
opened in March.
passport is needed for this mesmerizing journey to the
underwater wonders of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, a land
steeped in legend and folklore where the cactus-dotted
desert meets the endless aquamarine sea. While many of us
associate the 800-mile peninsula with powder-soft beaches
and salt-rimmed margaritas, the creators of this exhibit
want to showcase the richness and diversity of the Baja
ecosystem, from the splashy splendors of the Vermilion Sea
to the owls that perch amid the golden sands of the
Sonoran Desert. Two years in the making, this
7,000-square-foot exhibit frames a vast, tropical panorama
that plunges us into the mysteries of the big blue and
wanted to tell a new and unexpected story of Baja, a story
of life on the edge," says senior exhibit developer
Raul Nava. "It’s a very special and unique
environment and it’s also a fragile ecosystem."
some of the creatures on display here are endangered, and
the exhibit prompts us to think about the effect people
have on nature. Many of the region’s legendary coral
reefs are in distress. The jaunty Pacific seahorse, which
can grow to about a foot in length, is the only type of
its kind found off the coast of California, but it’s
also listed as "vulnerable." The vaquita
porpoise, whose name means "little cow" in
Spanish, is being threatened by pirate fishing, largely
illegal gill-netting for the totoaba, also a critically
endangered fish. There are now only 100 vaquitas left to
glide through the waters near the peninsula.
the ocean is a key message for Nava, who stresses that
there is always hope to turn the tide. He points to the
ecotourism hub at Cabo Pulmo at the tip of Baja, where
fishermen banded together to stop overfishing in favor of
adopting a sustainable model of tourism. The coral reefs
have become a resource to be cherished instead of
there are making a positive change right now," Nava
says, "and we can learn from that and be inspired by
their actions. We can learn to become good stewards of the
at the mesmerizing shimmer of shiny fish flashing through
the azure depths, it’s easy to see why oceanographer
Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez "the world’s
aquarium." "Viva Baja" is a chance to
immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of the deep
without ever getting wet.
are invited to traipse through six galleries teeming with
the wildlife specimens, from the scaly to the slithery,
that make their home in the legendary Sea of Cortez. From
the hermit crabs scuttling along the coral to the tiny
fish darting through the mangroves, this is a rare and
memorable vista into the mysterious world below the
surface of the water. Here you can glimpse beauties
generally only spied by snorkelers and divers: the
official-looking stripes of the sergeant major damselfish,
the strange spikes of the porcupinefish, the radiant pink
sheen of the Cortez rainbow wrasse.
wanted to create an immersive experience," Nava says.
"There’s always something to look at and touch as
you move through the environment."
uniqueness of the "Viva Baja!" exhibit, which is
bilingual, is part of its allure. This is the first time
the aquarium has showcased desert animals such as the poky
little desert tortoise, the round-bellied iguana, the
crimson-colored mountain kingsnake and the formidable
Western desert tarantula.
terrestrial creatures are a new adventure for us,"
Nava says. "It’s exciting to showcase the land
animals right next to their marine neighbors."
through the exhibit you might find yourself staring at a
rattlesnake tail that you can shake to scare away
predators. Beware the neon scorpion that flashes
fluorescent colors when plunged into the darkness of its
tiny, cavelike home. The playful desert tortoise, which
enjoys showing off for visitors, stretching his neck as
far out of his shell as he can and shuffling around on
thick claws, is a friendlier native of this mythical
you long to take a piece of this magical gallery home with
you, you can create your own tropical fish in a high-tech
exhibit and add it to the digital fish tank here, as well
as share your new fish BFF on social media. Consider it a
virtual souvenir of your visit to this wild and untamed
oasis of sand and sea.
Baja! Life on the Edge"
Opened March 19
Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey