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Birch Aquarium at Scripps celebrates 30 year Anniversary

The La Jolla aquarium has welcomed sea life and famous faces including President Clinton, President Obama and Jim Carrey and more.

SAN DIEGO — Thirty years ago, Birch Aquarium at Scripps opened their doors and hearts to San Diego's sea life. In this Zevely Zone, I met two associate curators who have welcomed every seahorse, fish and penguin. 

September 16 marks the 30th anniversary of Birch Aquarium at Scripps. After three decades on "top of the hill" in La Jolla, Birch Aquarium has established itself as an integral part of the San Diego experience. I sat down with Associate Curators Leslee Matsushige and Fernando Nosratpour who are also celebrating 30 years of service.

"These animals depend on us for their life," said Leslee with tears in her eyes. "You know it's been a great run for me. I have really enjoyed being here and I am so happy that I have been here for this long."

Credit: Birch Aquarium at Scripps

In 1992, Leslee was here before the tanks had water, then she greeted the sea life with open arms. "Just to see water going in the tanks and the first fish going in was a thrill," said Fernando. The two associate curators have not only shared an office for 30 years but a love for the ocean. "I just can't believe I have been here for 30 years, it's like the blink of an eye," said Fernando.

Credit: Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Fernando has welcomed every new creature and famous face that followed. "My favorite was Jim Carrey, I gave a tour to Jim Carey years ago. That was a blast. Super nice guy," said Fernando. "I've given tours to Newt Gingrich and Clarence Thomas." Former President Bill Clinton also visited the aquarium along with President Barack Obama. "I think visiting the aquarium you connect with nature, and I think it is so important, we are so disconnected with nature these days," said Fernando.

Credit: Birch Aquarium at Scripps

With every new visitor came another opportunity to care about the ocean. "I think people do in a certain way, but a lot of people don't," said Leslee. Pollution and climate change are two of the biggest challenges. "I'm optimistic because I see a lot of younger people understanding these things," said Leslee. "The only reason I am here is because of this." 

Credit: Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Three decades ago, Leslee left her homeland of Hawaii. She spent her life loving sea life and San Diego. "Wow this has been an incredible ride for me, and I can't even describe how amazing it has been for me," said Leslee. "Happy Birthday to Birch Aquarium at Scripps!"

RELATED: How to feed a Giant Pacific Octopus

Leslee and Fernando are leaders in their fields. Leslee focuses on seahorses, seadragons and jellyfish and Fernando focuses on corals. 

They have both been recognized for their EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) efforts and for sharing the wonders of the ocean with as many visitors as possible. Leslee and Fernando have supervised the aquarium’s participation in the Harvey Mudd College Upward Bound Program, which provides one-on-one training and internship opportunities to first-generation college students. Each summer, two high school interns from low-income neighborhoods in the East San Gabriel Valley spend six weeks at Birch Aquarium under the aquarists’ supervision.

RELATED: New 'Little Blue Penguins Exhibit' opens at the Birch Aquarium

Leslee and Fernando helped build the aquarium's 70,000-gallon Giant Kelp Forest and are working every day behind the scenes to take care of the marine life at Birch Aquarium. Birch has bred and raised about 13 different species of seahorses. The facility bred 4,000 babies and shared them with more than 100 institutions. 

Birch Aquarium has been part of UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the San Diego community for nearly 120 years, 30 of those in this location (on top of the hill in La Jolla) as Birch Aquarium.

As of September 2022, they have welcomed 11,294,117 guests since 1992. For more information about Birch Aquarium at Scripps click here.

WATCH RELATED: Scripps Institution of Oceanography opens in 1992

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