New S.F. aquarium will be largest 'green' building

SAN FRANCISCO — The world's largest public "green" building, an environmentally friendly museum featuring a living Amazonian rain forest, a live coral reef and more than

10,000 animals, is coming to San Francisco.

On Sept. 14, construction workers broke ground on the new California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium building, slated to open in Golden Gate Park in late 2008. A key aspect of the $392 million project is its "green" design, which will make the building itself one of the academy's main exhibits.

"San Francisco is the perfect place to do this," said Steinhart Aquarium Director Dr. Christopher Andrews, referring to the culture of environmental concern prevalent in the city. "Much of what the building will speak to is the need for conservation."

The new academy's design, which earned it the Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction, includes solar panels that will provide about 5 percent of the building's power and a "living roof" covered with 1.7 million native plants in six inches of topsoil, which will soak up about half of the rainwater that falls on the building, significantly reducing runoff. The other half will be caught in reservoirs and used as non-potable waste water.

Including the concrete and steel, all of the materials from the old location were recycled, and the academy will use all recycled steel in its new building.

Exhibits at the new California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium will include old favorites, such as the alligator-inhabited "swamp" near the museum's entrance and the African penguins, as well as several new projects.

"The need for change is key to keep people coming back," Andrews said.

Among the new attractions will be a 90-foot-tall "Rainforest Dome," which will have a living Amazonian rain forest on one side and galleries devoted to rain forests in Borneo, Costa Rica and Madagascar on the other. A three-level walkway will wind its way to the top of the dome, where visitors can board an elevator to a glass tunnel leading through the 100,000-gallon flooded Amazon rain forest tank.

Another icon of the new aquarium will be a 225,000-gallon living coral reef tank. The 20-foot-deep tank will cover

12,000 square feet and feature aquatic life and mangroves from the Philippines. The
living coral reef exhibit will be the first of its size in the United States, an ambitious undertaking that brings new challenges.

"Most of the reef is sustained by light," said aquarium curator Bart Shepherd, who was instrumental in designing the smaller coral reef at the aquarium's current location and is working on the new one. "Our biggest challenge has been providing appropriate light."

Shepherd said the only light bulbs that will work for the new coral reef are not typically found in U.S. aquariums but are the massive halides used to light stadiums.

The Steinhart Aquarium originally opened in Golden Gate Park in 1923 and moved to its temporary location in a former warehouse on Howard Street in 2004. Plans to rebuild the aquarium started in the early 1990s after the cluster of buildings, already showing their wear from age, sustained damages in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The decision was made to rebuild, rather than renovate, so the new aquarium could be completely redesigned using new technology.

Most of the academy's collection of live animals was moved to the current location in 2004, but some of the animals had to be sent to new homes because of space issues.

Shepherd said the decisions of which large animals to keep were based on size and how easily replacements could be obtained. Large animals that are endangered were kept, while more easily-obtained animals, such as the sharks and alligators, were sent to other aquariums and wildlife preserves.

Even though the new building will feature more than 10,000 animals in its exhibits, the California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium plans to keep its personal approach to help educate visitors, with staff members and volunteers ready to explain exhibits to museum-goers.

"If you want to provide information, and effect change, the most important aspect is people to people," Andrews said.

>> Special thanks to at Shea Gunther for this most excellent story... we read it at his blog first! Given our interest in the guest services industry (read: hotels, resorts, ski resorts, and amusement parks, etc)


Parents going organic

Sales surge amid pesticide worries, fears for children

By Associated Press | November 3, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Erin O'Neal has two daughters and a fridge stocked with organic cheese, milk, fruits, and vegetables in her Annapolis, Md., home.
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She is among the increasing number of parents who buy organic to keep kids' diets free of food grown with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetic engineering. ''The pesticide issue just scares me -- it wigs me out to think about the amount of chemicals that might be going into my kid," said O'Neal, 36.

Sales of organic baby food have jumped nearly 18 percent since last year -- double the overall growth of organic food sales, according to the marketing information company ACNielsen.

As demand has risen, organic food for children has been popping up outside natural food stores. For example, Earth's Best baby food, a mainstay in Whole Foods and Wild Oats markets, just reached a national distribution deal with Toys ''R" Us and Babies ''R" Us. Gerber is selling organic baby food under its Tender Harvest label. Stonyfield Farm's YoBaby yogurt can be found in supermarkets across the nation.

The concern about children is that they are more vulnerable to toxins, said Alan Greene, a California pediatrician. As children grow rapidly, their brains and organs are forming and they eat more for their size than do grown-ups, Greene said. ''Pound for pound, they get higher concentrations of pesticides than adults do."

New government-funded research adds to the concern. A study of children whose diets were changed to organic found their pesticide levels plunged almost immediately. The amount of pesticide detected in the children remained imperceptible until they were switched back to conventional food.

''We didn't expect that to drop in such dramatic fashion," said Emory University's Chensheng Lu, who led the research.
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.