The Open Sea Galleries Offers Art in the Spirit of Ocean Conservation

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The aquarium takes an innovative direction in the new Ocean Travelers gallery.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is known to be a trendsetter among zoos and aquariums worldwide, and its newest renovated exhibit galleries, The Open Sea, are once again pushing the envelope in exhibit design. In The Open Sea’s final gallery, Ocean Travelers, visitors are introduced to three artists – Chris Jordan, Alison McDonald and Bryant Austin – who have devoted their work to conserving the world’s oceans.

In a first for the aquarium’s permanent galleries, each live animal exhibit in Ocean Travelers is paired with an art installation to raise awareness about the threats facing those animals. Visitors learn what they can do to ensure safe passage for the unique fishes, sharks, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals that live in the open ocean. Nearby, short video clips of the artists explain the motivation and passion behind their work.

Visitors first encounter Chris Jordan’s art piece, Shark Teeth. A lifelong photographer, Jordan’s work pairs challenging abstract statistics with staggering visuals to help viewers understand the true extent of their personal consumption. Shark Teeth represents the thousands of sharks killed each year for their fins. Viewed from afar, visitors see a ying-yang image of two species of sharks encircling a mercury symbol. As they get closer to the art piece, thousands of fossilized shark teeth that create the image became more apparent.

Alyssa Irizarry is a featured researcher visitors will learn about near the new juvenile sea turtle exhibit in Ocean Travelers. The Tufts University student researched the impact of several sea turtle murals in Mexico on their effectiveness in changing both attitudes and behaviors toward sea turtles. In 1996 a group of artists set out to create a series of sea turtle murals along the 1,000 mile-long Baja Peninsula. Most of the artists were self-taught and in collaboration with the conservation group, El Grupo Tortuguero, agreed to create beautiful sea turtle murals if given paints, brushes and food. Irizarry was curious if the murals – which visitors will see one example of – helped turn the tide in local communities away from consuming sea turtles to protecting them. Her findings showed the murals did indeed help change attitudes and behaviors about endangered sea turtles. Her admonition: “Keep on painting!”

Across the way visitors will encounter artwork by native Australian Alison McDonald. Message in a Bottle is a series of a dozen sculptures that evoke questions about the relationship humans have with plastic. McDonald’s installation features meticulous cutwork using recycled plastic to create delicate algae. The piece invites viewers to re-shape their thinking about plastic and its often disastrous effect in the open sea and on land.

The final artist visitors meet in the Ocean Travelers gallery is Santa Cruz-based photographer, Bryant Austin, who is inspiring change worldwide with his life-size photographs of whales. Visitors come eye-to-eye with a black-and-white composite photograph of the face of an endangered humpback whale calf. Austin captured the photograph on a Hasselblad portrait camera while free diving in the Kingdom of Tonga. After composing a series of photographs he digitally stitches them together and produces a profound, life-size representation of an animal. Through his creations, Austin and the group Marine Mammal Conservation through the Arts hope to inspire change within countries that continue to hunt or harm whales.

Each artist featured in the Ocean Travelers gallery uses different materials to create their pieces, but the common thread throughout their inspiring artwork is an awareness of environmental issues affecting the oceans and a clear message of how visitors can help conserve the oceans and ensure safe passage for transoceanic animals.

Details about the aquarium’s Open Sea galleries can be found on the aquarium’s newly redesigned web pages at For the entire Open Sea press kit and photos, please visit

The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.


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Angela Hains

Karen Jeffries
Monterey Bay Aquarium
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