MBARI Open House 2019

  • MBARI 2019

Reported by Alan Throop (photos by Alan except as noted)

A number of Tooters attended the annual open house at Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBARI) on Saturday, July 20.


I’ll mention now to be sure to put on your calendar a note to checkout the MBARI website ( in mid-June to see when the open house is next year (typically in July).  I might add to similarly note to check the Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML) website ( in mid-March for their open house that is typically held in late April. It is also located in Moss Landing, just south of MBARI.

MBARI was founded in 1986, when the major West Coast marine research institutions gathered to discuss the status of oceanography and the need to set up a major marine research effort in Monterey. This was driven by a research grant that Bruce Robinson at UCSB had obtained to use a human-occupied submersible in 1985 to investigate what was in the Central California coastal waters. The remarkable animals and environmental that he saw excited the scientific community .. but they had no ability for high-quality video at the time. They realized they needed a way to document/record what was seen. An engineer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) had designed an underwater housing for such a video camera to show some of the skeptics and Bruce worked with him to obtain some footage of what he had seen.


At the 1986 gathering, David Packard was convinced of the need for a major Research Institute that was outside of the scope of the MBA. He created a vision where scientists pose research questions, engineers design and built the instruments and equipment needed to address these questions, and an operation staff effectively deploy and operate the devices to obtain the flora, fauna, and data that the scientists needed … a unique integrated management approach. He also wanted to free the researchers from the time and burden of applying for external grants. In 1987 they incorporated MBARI as an independent entity from the aquarium and David provided $13M startup funds and continued funding through the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.  So MBARI has become known for its unique equipment and deep-sea remotely-operated vehicles ( ROVs), instrumentation for chemical analysis, and computer science and communications.

Just for comparison, MLML in Moss Landing was established in 1966 and is the second-oldest marine lab on Monterey. It serves to provide a marine science educational program for the California State Universities, and is more of an educational and research organization instead of a “big-equipment’ institution like MBARI. There is also a MLML branch located next to the Seymour Discovery Center in Santa Cruz that is closely associated with UC Santa Cruz; it give tours along with the Discovery Center and both are worth a visit if you can’t dive.

These two institutions are located in Moss Landing for an obvious reasons: the deep Monterey Canyon comes in very close to the shore here – even closer than the trench off of Monastery Beach. This canyon cuts deeply into the Continental Shelf to the shore, so it affords easy and fast access to deep waters and all that inhabit it.

MBARI club event 2019

ATDC Group (left to right): Angela, Debbie, Linda, Larry (back), and Jim.

Angela was POC for the event, and Larry, Linda, Jim & Debbie, and Alan joined her . The open house was held from 12-5pm, so—after spending some time on the beach—we met at the nearby primo Phil’s Seafood and Market for an early lunch. The day was typically overcast and cool, but it was uncrowded and a good time to walk around the little one-block section that makes up “downtown” Moss Landing, check the area out, and take some photographs. I stopped in “Little Phil’s” that his daughter used to own but has now apparently been taken over by another lady. The food apparently continues to use Phil’s recipes, so if you ever find the line too long at “Big Phil’s”, you might try that sometime.  As the day went on, the fog burned out and it ended being a nice sunny day.


There were lots of things going on at the open house. Probably the most interesting was all the ROVs displayed, which MBARI has developed and operates for various researchers and organizations around the world. I had never realized the number of ROVs that were there. Many were specialized for particular purposes, while others were just generalized search-and-recover vehicles. The complexity and ingenuity of the devices were really interesting. Besides the ROVs, MBARI also has torpedo-looking vehicles that can autonomously search and measure the ocean depths in an efficient and cost-effective manner and “drift vehicles” that can spend extended time on the ocean measuring the conditions of the surface and shallower waters and the marine life.

MBARI had two of their large research-vessels for view (although for this open house, we were not able to go on board):  the Rachael Carlson and the Western Flyer. You’ve likely seen these on the Discovery, Science, PBS,  and other channels. These are capable of deploying and operating the ROVs, over long and distant excursions. They are true research vessels with a complex ROV operations center, wet labs, dry labs, and lots of instrumentation capability.

One of interesting parts of the open house (to me) was the machine shop that was open to tour.  In this building, there is a large assembly bay with cranes where devices are assembled and expeditions are staged, along with traditional large-scale machining hardware, tooling machines, metal breaks, etc. In the back area was a large number (maybe 15) of Numerical Controlled (NC) machines that make precision metal parts for the specialized devices that they build. There were also 3-4 3D printers that can produce precision 3D parts as needed. Some of the machinists and operators were there, and it was interesting talking with them.  I was surprised at the sophisticated in-house capability that MBARI had in this regard.


Outside, there were many tented booths that presented some of the science and engineering work that they do, along with a few research-poster-type of presentations, and quite a few hands-on exhibits where, for example, you could be trained to build your own unique ROV and then “fly” them in one of three pools that were erected.  There were really no wet-labs –  with the traditional microscopes, trays, chemistry setups, etc – accessible during the open house. I’m guessing that they existed there, they just weren’t open.

Again, just for comparison, the MLML open house tends to have all the science labs open, with many (preserved) animals to see, lab-type instrumentation to play with, and more poster-type science presentations. Both are very fun … they are just a different experience.

There was also a series of interesting and on-going talks in the main auditorium during the open house, with talks showing how and explaining the ocean mapping that has been done, how the vessels operate the ROVs, the unique marine animal discovers that have been made, an overview of MBARI, etc.  The talks that I heard were very interesting. It would be nice to get some of these speakers to present at our club meetings.

So  – as I urged earlier – note the events next year on your calendars so that you can come and enjoy this as well.

Many thanks to Angela for bringing this to our attention and acting as POC for the trip.