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Oct 08th
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Seasons In The Sanctuary

ae migrateLocals raise money for new animal migration guide which integrates art and science

It’s easy to forget just how much goes on beneath the ocean’s surface, particularly in the Monterey Bay. Between breeding grounds and feeding grounds, a huge variety of sea creatures are traveling in and out of the bay depending on the time of year, almost like an underwater highway. The heavy traffic has much to do with the two-mile deep Monterey Canyon just off the coast, where sea life flourishes, and the protection of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

To bring greater awareness to the diversity of fauna that pass through our coastal waters, or linger year-round, Crystal Birns, arts program manager for the City of Santa Cruz, and artist Doug Ross, in collaboration with the O'Neill Sea Odyssey program, are working to produce an animal migration interpretive guide—what they call “Seasons in the Sanctuary.”

The guide will be an educational pamphlet and poster that fuses scientific research on sea life and Ross' artistic interpretations of the animals. The project is a grassroots initiative, however, which will only come to fruition if the team reaches its fundraising goal of $4,000 by Oct. 2 on They are already almost half way there.

“The whole premise is an underwater safari that's happening all year-round, and we don't see it,” says Birns. “With this handout, people can see that on this month, these kinds of animals are out there.”

After Ross' art designs are finished, their plan is to print and distribute more than 200 posters and 6,000 pamphlets to classrooms in Central California through O’Neill Sea Odyssey, a nonprofit that takes fourth through sixth graders out ae Pelicanon the Team O'Neill Catamaran and teaches them hands-on ocean science.

They also plan to install a large poster in a kiosk on the Santa Cruz Wharf where passersby can view a large version of the art and migration research and learn what's happening beneath the ocean's surface, Birns says.

“Our vision is for people who are moved by images and are visual learners to have this as a resource—as an educational tool to learn about science,” she explains.

Ross, a commercial silk screening artist of 20 years and also a marine mammal rescue volunteer, focuses his creativity on modernistic interpretations of sea life. His work can be seen at local galleries and on traffic boxes around town. One, on the corner of Broadway Street and Ocean Street, shows his trademark image: a stylized pelican crashing into the water and snatching up small fish.

Birns approached Ross with her idea partly because his renderings of animals are not totally realistic.

“In a way, by doing the animals in my style, it makes the art more approachable,” Ross says. “Scientific illustration can be formal and intimidating.”

He says his intention with his art is to distill the essence of the subject down to its ideal form, so that rather than creating an image of a single whale, for example, he's conveying the idea of all whales.

To accomplish this, Ross often draws purely from memory.

Birns says she likes the idea of unlikely partnerships, referring to their science-meets-art collaboration.

“Artists can really bring out the stories that scientists are working on,” she says.

Birns and Ross have collaborated with two scientists for their research on marine wildlife—one from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and another from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The pamphlets and posters will feature drawings of animals such as elephant seals, gray whales, shearwater birds, great white sharks, sea lions, otters and the rarely sighted Pacific leatherback sea turtles. 

To learn more about the project and to donate, visit and search for “Seasons in the Sanctuary.” Deadline to donate is Oct. 2.

Pelican pcoto credit: Doug Ross

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