In Aquarium-Building Race, Is Three a Crowd?

Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Fish gotta swim--and judging by the popularity of public aquariums--people gotta watch ‘em. In the last dozen or so years, aquariums have become major tourist attractions wherever they have been built. And now it is the dawning of the Age of Aquariums on the Central Coast. Three cities--Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Barbara--are in a feeding frenzy to get their own facilities built.

OK, so we’re all interested in marine life, and who among us hasn’t nearly crashed a car while trying to get a better look at the bottle-nosed dolphins cruising just offshore?

But three aquarium proposals?

“The popularity of aquariums has contributed to the public’s awareness of the fragile ocean ecosystem,” said staff writer Jeff Meyers, the author of this week’s Centerpiece story on the area’s Tank Wars. “One marine expert told me that nobody cared about the plight of whales or dolphins until people began encountering them in oceanariums like Sea World. A local aquarium would no doubt make us more sensitive about what happens in the Santa Barbara Channel.”


So imagine the heightened consciousness we would achieve from three aquariums.

“Whatever you do, don’t call Ventura’s project an aquarium,” Meyers said. “When I talked to designer Al Fiori, he said, ‘We’re not developing an aquarium per se.’ And Jean-Michel Cousteau, who is also part of the Ventura project. called it ‘a marine facility.’ ”

All right, whether we call it an aquarium, a marine facility or a big fish tank, the question remains: Will the tourists come?

“Even if one of the three aquariums becomes a reality, there’s no guarantee it will be a big winner,” Meyers said. “Marineland was considered the finest oceanarium in the world when it opened in the early 1960s on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, but it went out of business in 1987. Even Jean-Michel Cousteau came up a loser when his Living Sea Museum aboard the Queen Mary, opened about 1970, lasted only a few years.”


Which is why savvy city and county planners need to come up with something original, a plan that enables each of the cities to catch the trend and ride it into economic prosperity. Meyers thinks he has just such a plan.

“Why not combine an aquarium with a minor league baseball stadium?” he said. “Or an aquarium with a factory outlet mall? Or how about a combination aquarium/sushi bar?”

It all sounds a bit fishy to me.

Elsewhere in Life: For those of you who like your fish gutted, boned and on a plate, with a nice butter-lemon sauce, restaurant reviewer David Goldman will tell you about the dishes (seafood and otherwise) being served at The Greek, which has recently moved from Oxnard to the Ventura Harbor.