Aquarium “Fishing” Trip a Bust

Rough Seas Hinder Collection Efforts

CABO PULMO, Mexico – Ocean Journey divers Tuesday plunged
into emerald blue waters, but they weren’t collecting fish, as
planned, for Denver’s new $93 million aquarium.

Instead, they were surveying an underwater reef for future

On Wednesday, they spent most of the day packing. And today,
the Colorado’s Ocean Journey crew will drive north up Mexico’s
Baja Peninsula, cutting short an expedition that was supposed to
gather thousands of colorful fish.

“”Disappointing,” Rich Lerner, Ocean Journey’s curator of
fishes, said of collection efforts this week. “”We’ll probably
have to purchase a little more” than previously planned – at up
to $400 a fish, he said.

By the end of this month, Ocean Journey biologists had hoped
to collect 3,500 of the 8,500 fish that the Mexican government
has allowed them to collect from the Sea of Cortez. That goal
proved elusive. Late-season hurricanes churned up waves, and
divers said that they couldn’t see far enough under water. Waves
also washed away cube-shaped cages loaded with Moorish idol fish
caught last week.

“”We’ll come back down here numerous times,” Lerner said.
“”But probably not this year. There are plenty of things for us
to do back at the ranch to get the aquarium ready.”

The aquarium is scheduled to open early next summer.

Meanwhile, Ocean Journey officials said they’ll nurture their
partnership with the caretakers of the 17,000-acre underwater
Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park.

Park Director Pepe Murrieta wants to build a small aquarium
along the shore where collectors could store fish. Murrieta said
fish might breed in the aquarium and that Mexican university
students could work at the facility.

Lerner said it sounded great. “”Sometimes you need to spend
some money that you may not recoup monetarily,” he said. “”It’s
a good tradeoff.”

Another possibility is teaching some Ocean Journey staffers
to speak Spanish. Only one of the biologists here this week
could speak any Spanish.

On Tuesday, Ocean Journey divers set out to inspect a reef
just outside the park boundaries, where they hope to collect
fish when the currents have cleared.

Three Ocean Journey “”aquarists” – Jenny Jeffers, Colleen
McCann and Libby Vincent – hooked up air tanks and plunged along
the anchor rope. About 30 feet underwater, they swam north along
a coral reef, silvery bubbles rising toward a cloudless blue sky.

They followed the reef toward an underwater canyon that drops
down 4,000 feet. They could see only 30 feet ahead of their
masks – less than half the normal visibility at this time of year.

“”The fish seem to be hiding today,” Jeffers said later.