Kelp Forest Tank Reopens With a Fresh Look

From January 6 through February 7, 2014, Birch Aquarium’s kelp forest exhibit was off display while minor repairs were made to the tank’s concrete structure. This is the last of three articles about the construction project and its developments. This important project was generously sponsored by the Moore Family Foundation.

 Post #1: Getting Ready

Post # 2: Repairs Underway

Birch Aquarium’s kelp forest exhibit was abuzz with activity as final preparations were made to reopen on Saturday, February 8. After repairs to corrosion leaks were completed, the 70,000-gallon tank was refilled with ocean water pumped from Scripps Pier. In the next few months, this nutrient-rich water will bring in seaweed spores that will settle and eventually grow into mature seaweed, complementing the giant, palm, and feather boa kelp already returned to the exhibit.


Visitors will be pleased to see many of their favorite fishes—such as giant sea bass, rockfish, and sheephead—back from a five-week “staycation” behind-the-scenes. But that’s not all! To highlight the diversity of local kelp forests, aquarists added schools of fish that are often seen in southern California, including Pacific sardines and ocean whitefish. Also, look for zebra perch, opal eye, and half moon, too. Adding more grazing fish like these opens space for a greater variety of seaweeds to grow.


Along with updated exhibit graphics, everyone at Birch Aquarium was thrilled to reveal the kelp forest community’s fresh look last weekend. Over the next few months, we’ll add more animals to the exhibit and the algae will start to grow on the rocks to give the tank the iconic look our visitors have loved for 20+ years. We invite you to visit and share your kelp-forest experience with us. For a special treat, check out a Kelp Tank Dive Show—every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday—or the Kelp Cam on the web.

Kate Jirik

You Might Also Like

  • Mike
    February 13, 2014 at 4:14 am

    A question about algae growth…..

    Obviously the algae took a while to completely cover the rocks and other structures within the tank when you originally built it. Do you have data on how long that took the first time when the tank opened, and also an estimate of how long it will take with the newly refreshed tank?

    Thanks, and I can’t wait to see it.

    • h6johnson
      February 14, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Excellent question! We unfortunately don’t have any documentation of how long it took to get the tank to the level of seaweed “maturity” that we had before draining the tank. So we’re not really sure yet! The tank will go through successive stages, with different species appearing at different times.

      We are working on documenting the growth this time. We hope to have good information in the coming months when we know more. For now, a brown filmy algae (diatom algae) is already browning the rock work. Our aquarists thing it will be months before we see some decent growth.

    Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego