Published April 29, 2021
By SOPHIA BONE
After more than a year of being closed to the general public, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is finally accepting visitors, allowing members on May 1-14 and the rest of the public on May 15.
“We’ve missed welcoming our visitors to the Aquarium and have been looking forward to this day for too long,” said executive director Julie Packard in a March 30 press release. “Social media and our online experiences have allowed us to stay connected with people virtually, but we know that people are looking forward to reconnecting with favorite exhibits and animals in person. Everyone can expect an outstanding experience that puts the well-being of our guests, staff and volunteers front and center.”
For the whole month of May, the aquarium will be open every day but Tuesdays and Thursdays, and starting June 1, the tourist attraction will be open every day from 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Ticket reservations are limited and can only be made online starting April 26 at 9 a.m. for members and starting May 5 at 9 a.m. for the general public. The two weeks for members are a way for the personnel at the aquarium to say thank you for all the support they have given them throughout the past year.
“One of the main things we suffered from was loss of admissions for over a year,” says Don Battles, a seven-year volunteer at the aquarium, “so the members have just been fantastic responding to that need and doing their part to help us continue.”
Starting about two weeks ago, some of the most generous donors and members have been allowed in for special tours of the whole aquarium as another thank you, but also to test out how everything will work with people coming back.
“We are trying to work out the kinks more or less to ensure that it is safe for everyone with all the new precautions we are taking,” explains Kevin Lewand, a senior collector at the aquarium.
COVID-19 precautions include wearing a face covering, but those wearing neck gaiters, bandanas and face shields will not be admitted. Regularly washing hands, maintaining a 6-foot distance and following the one-way route of the aquarium will be enforced. There will be no ability to re-enter.
Restaurants, the Splash Zone play area, the touch pools, tours and feeding tours will be closed for the time being. The cafe and the main store will be open, but ordering online is preferred, and the aquarium is going cash-free, so visitors are encouraged to use their mobile device to make purchases and reservations.
“The interactive areas, especially those for the younger guests, are going to be closed, as the constant touching of those exhibits just can’t be done right now,” Battles adds.
During the whole of the pandemic, the main way the public has been able to experience the aquarium was through live streaming different exhibits such as the kelp forests and jelly fish habitats. Off-camera, the animals were getting comfortable around all their new space.
“It is cool seeing things that you normally don’t in the middle of the day like the penguins just walking down the halls or someone playing hide and seek with the otters for some interaction,” Lewand says.
All the animals are begging for attention and along with the workers at the aquarium cannot wait for visitors to come back.
“When talking to the staff the last few weeks they’ve told me that it’s getting just really emotional to finally see people back in the aquarium after it has been empty for so long,” Battles notes. “We are all so excited to have people able to come back.”
Teens are excited to be able to explore the aquarium once again as well.
“I think it is a great experience for students to connect with the ocean and to learn more about the environment,” says Lewand’s daughter, Sage, a sophomore at CHS.
Some teens have been volunteering at the aquarium throughout the pandemic, and for Monterey High School senior and four-year volunteer Ruksheen Kamar, the aquarium has had a deeper resonance with her.
“A lot of the activities I have done with the aquarium has been empowering more than anything,” mentions Kamar, who will be pursuing marine biology in college. “Just having the information and support that share really gives you confidence to speak on climate and environmental issues.”
For more information about the reopening or to reserve tickets, go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website at www.montereybayaquarium.org/.