One of the things I really wanted to do during my visit to Washington DC was to visit the Sant Ocean Hall. It is the newest exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History and considering the work I've done over the last three years, I was really stoked to see it.
I walked into the museum from the Constitution Avenue side, the side not facing the National Mall. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by something from Micronesia; a giant stone rai from Yap is just outside the gift store next to the escalator leading up to the Sant Ocean Hall. I'm not from Yap, nor have I ever been to Yap, nor does this stone money have anything to do with the ocean exhibit, but it was interesting knowing that something from my part of the world made its way into the Smithsonian.
Somebody who works on fishing issues told me that the exhibition was just short of lame, but I'd have to disagree. I was blown away. I was totally impressed with the displays. They covered everything, from fishing, deep see vents, coral reefs, seamounts, to the human effects on our oceans, and of course, display after display on scientific discovery. Basically, if it has to do with the ocean, it is covered somehow in the exhibit. There are even penguins! I love penguins!
Inside the exhibition one is meant to feel like they are in the middle of the ocean. There are giant 10 foot tall screens showing scenes from the ocean up near the ceiling and ocean creatures are displayed everywhere. Not only can you find a giant full grown North Atlantic Right Whale, but there is also a real, honest to goodness giant squid sitting in several gallons of formaldehyde. Cool or gross depending on how you feel about giant invertebrates.
I am proud to say that the Mariana Trench gets a mention in the exhibit. It is one of the areas they used to explain tectonic plates. (I hope that we get to put a big circle around those northernmost waters soon!)
As I passed from display to display, from fishing to coral reefs to deep sea vents, I couldn't help but think that some of this stuff would be great in a visitors center on Saipan. We have a lot of the same habitats and issues as described in the exhibit.
We have deep ocean. Check out the model of a Dumbo Octopus in the Deep Ocean display. These deep ocean guys could and should be our mascots, not Saipanda. We could call the Dumbo Octopus mascot, Octo-sai-dum-panda.
We have hydrothermal vents. In fact, the hydrothermal vents in our waters, places where chemosynthetic bacteria are the primary producers, have been called a "biodiversity hotspot" by NOAA scientists. We also have unique hydrothermal vents that occur in shallow water in the Maug lagoon. Coral grows near these hydrothermal vents, making them one of the only habitats in the world where chemosynthesis and photosynthesis occur simultaneously. It is also interesting to note the these corals can survive in very hot, very acidic water. They could be studied and may have applications to help us better understand global climate change.
We also have seamounts in our waters. These are like giant underwater mountains where filter feeding life forms thrive. Some of the seamounts in the proposed marine monument are home to the highest remaining densities of sharks in the entire Pacific Ocean.
It wouldn't be too hard to take some of these displays, tweak them a little bit for our local conditions, throw in some displays about volcanism and of course our local culture and people, and voila! Instant visitors center! All tourists, students and locals are welcome to visit.
As for the rest of the exhibit, I saw the bamboo coral donated to the Sant Hall by the Deep Sea News guys. (Hi, Peter, thanks for adding me on Facebook!)
There was even an undersea remote operated vehicle hanging from the ceiling. I already mentioned the penguins, too, right?
I managed to see a few of the monuments, too. I didn't get to see everything, but I feel like the side trip north was worth it.
I stood beneath the shadows of the Washington Monument as the sun set one night. The sky was spectacular. Saipan isn't the only place with beautiful sunsets.
As I turned around and looked in the other direction, the United States Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives, gave off a soft glow. I could barely tell it was 35 degrees out.
Notice the black limos in front of the White House? Could that be George W. Bush or was Laura just going out for some Starbucks?
The view of the Washington Monument from the World War II Monument at dusk was impressive.
The view of the Lincoln Memorial was equally impressive. I wonder where they are going to put the Barack Obama monument?
By the way, Barack says "hello."