Moon jellies are swimming within inches of the young faces, which are nearly pressed against the glass tanks in a preview of the UCLA Ocean Discovery Center, located under the Santa Monica Pier. The youngsters are so close that they can see the hair-like tentacles on the transparent fish as they swish through the water. And that's the whole idea behind the new facility, which beginning Saturday gives the public an up-close look at what's beneath the surface of Santa Monica Bay.
To start, the center will offer hands-on programs to schoolchildren during the week, and is open to the public on weekends. Children--and adults--can hold the live bat stars, sea cucumbers and other ocean life in the touch tanks, and study a living tableau of sea life in a 3,000-gallon enclosure.
"The purpose here is to let people see living creatures that come right out of the bay," says Chuck Kopczak, director of the center. "The bay is a valuable resource, it's not a dead zone."
The facility will eventually be expanded, Kopczak says. Schoolchildren will someday be able to gather data from the beach and do water quality samples, and participate in long-term monitoring projects.
Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Santa Monica Pier, just below the carousel, off Ocean Boulevard. Admission: $5; seniors, $3; students, $1. Children must be accompanied by an adult. (310) 393-6149.