Opinion of The Tribune

Morro Bay Aquarium needs more than a face-lift

But owners of Morro Bay facility should be given opportunity to make improvements

letters@thetribunenews.comJune 24, 2013 

A few of the fish tanks at the Morro Bay Aquarium.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Before it renews the lease for the Morro Bay Aquarium, the City Council should insist on substantial upgrades, rather than settling for a cosmetic touch-up.

Eric Anderson, county Animal Services manager, is on the right track in recommending that the facility be required to receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to qualify for the 10-year renewal the owners are seeking.

Or, if the City Council believes that’s setting the bar too high, it could work with fish and wildlife experts to develop other criteria for lease renewal.

As we’ve said before, we believe the aquarium’s owners — Dean Tyler, 94, and Bertha Tyler, 89 — should be given the opportunity to make necessary improvements.

However, they appear to be in denial about the extent of work that is needed. In a recent letter to the city, the couple wrote: “It is a charming building and should be kept in the current configuration as best as possible with some modern cosmetic work.”

Pardon our bluntness, but while it might have some nostalgic appeal, there is nothing charming about either the exterior or interior of the aging facility.

The aquarium is deficient on many levels. First and foremost, we share concerns voiced by representatives from animal welfare organizations about the adequacy of the outdoor ponds for marine mammals. On top of that, the overall ambiance of both indoor and outdoor exhibits is dank, dismal, even frightening.

While the aquarium is popular with some members of the public — and the owners enjoy a large fan base — a modern, more appealing facility would have much broader appeal. That would financially benefit both the owners and the city of Morro Bay, which is entitled to a share of revenue from businesses that lease land along the Embarcadero.

In other words, the city has a financial stake in ensuring businesses are well maintained and operated, and we believe the aquarium has been operating way below its potential in that area.

At least the Tylers are proposing to raise the price of admission — it has been just $2 per person for many years — and putting that additional revenue aside for future renovations. We believe the public would be willing to pay more in order to see facilities upgraded.

However, it’s unclear whether the amount of money generated would even begin to pay for the necessary upgrades. Nor do we have a timetable for when those major improvements would be made.

We don’t expect change overnight, but we do believe this is an opportunity for the city to work with experts — be it the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or some other entity — to set standards for the aquarium. If the Tylers aren’t willing to meet those, then the City Council should indeed request other proposals.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.

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