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A sea education: Central Coast Aquarium welcomes new executive director, continues mission to teach community about marine life 

Among Avila Beach's hidden treasures is one that is as blue and calm as the ocean. The Central Coast Aquarium is housed in a deep blue building just off Avila Beach Drive. Entering the two-story facility, you're instantly greeted by an antique diving suit, children's voices, and the sounds of water filtering in tanks.

click to enlarge SPLASHING GOOD TIME Joan the octopus has found her temporary home at the Central Coast Aquarium. - PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • Photo By Karen Garcia
  • SPLASHING GOOD TIME Joan the octopus has found her temporary home at the Central Coast Aquarium.

The Central Coast Aquarium has educational programs for all ages, daily feedings, and on-hand volunteers and docents to show you around. Its newest additions are an executive director and a designated outdoor space.

The aquarium's board of directors recently announced that Christine Johnson, a former Morro Bay City Council member and former director of development and communications at Stand Strong, would be its new executive director.

One of her goals is for the facility to continue with its mission to educate all visitors about marine life.

"I really do want to start highlighting the opportunities for refreshing some of the exhibits in the exhibit hall. I think it has been about 10 years that the aquarium has been in this facility, and I think it's time to find some new ways to talk about sea life here," Johnson said.

In the exhibit hall, "touch tanks" allow visitors to touch swell sharks, and there are plenty of exhibits filled with jellyfish and flat fish, to name a few. Facility aquarist Emily Sampson is in charge of tank maintenance, food prepping, animal welfare, and volunteer training. She knows the names of all of the animals in the aquarium, their age, what they ate, and even their personalities.

Sampson said their biggest attraction at the moment is their swell sharks. They have adults, teens, and even eggs. The eggs are called mermaid purses, residing on kelp that conveniently camouflage them.

She said that while the aquarium is small—the average visit takes about 35 minutes—every person who works or volunteers there puts the detail and care into the facility.

"If people just take the time to kind of ask questions and explore, you'll get a lot more out of it. We're nowhere near the scale of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but hopefully you'll get more of a one-on-one experience with our volunteers and docents," Sampson said.

There are seasonal spring and summer camps for kids and teens. Kids ages 5 to 10 years old have the opportunity to enjoy tide pooling, dissections, and other interactive activities with marine life. Teen campers 11 to 14 years old also get to participate in a floating lab, kayaking, fishing, and a research-based project.

There is even a wine night for adults called Sharks After Dark, where local experts give a talk about marine science topics such as oceanography or current marine events.

Another addition to the aquarium is its new outdoor space located to the left of the facility. Soon, campers or children participating in programs will be able to enjoy an outdoor setting for certain activities.

"In view, in earshot, and really smelling the ocean and talking about things that are happening out there," Johnson said.

The public is also welcome to rent the outdoor space for their event needs as well as the upstairs classroom area. To learn more about the Central Coast Aquarium or how to support the local educational facility, visit

Fast fact

For family fun this Fourth of July, look no further than Morro Bay's Fourth of July Celebration with parades and a family fun day at the park. There will be a skateboard race in the morning, a bike parade, and activities planned for the kids at Tidelands Park. If you want to participate, adorn your bike in the best patriotic decorations and meet on the north side of Morro Creek Bridge to ride to Tidelands Park. At the park, there will be live music by The Cinders and Shameless, an opening flag ceremony, and magic by Chris Lopez. To learn more about the times of each activities or how to participate, visit Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to

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