There’s no need to drive out of the state to get a glimpse of the ocean.
In its latest major renovation, the Biosphere 2 is bringing a touch of the Gulf of California to its 3.1-acre facility, located at 32540 S. Biosphere Road in the Town of Oracle.
The 700,000-gallon, 9,000 square-foot ocean that was once used as a coral reef display, will now be transformed to replicate Arizona’s closest marine environment in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez.
In order to accomplish the feat, the University of Arizona, which has now owned the Biosphere 2 for about seven years, brought in marine biologist and program manager Rafe Sagarin.
“Every single stranger that I tell I’m a marine biologist and that I live in Tucson, they laugh, and they say, ‘What’s a marine biologist doing in Tucson?’” said Sagarin.
Misconceptions like that also leave many questions as to why the Biosphere 2 would incorporate an ocean atmosphere into a greenhouse located in the desert.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Sonoran Desert is as spectacular as it is because it’s so close to the ocean,” said Sagarin. “That brings the moisture for our monsoons, and the fact that we have those monsoons is one of the major reasons why the Sonoran Desert doesn’t look like the Mojave Desert. It’s really rich. You have one of the richest oceans in the world meeting up with one of the richest deserts in the world. We want to showcase that connection.”
"The Desert Sea," as it is being called, is still a work in progress, but will see gradual progression to incorporate additional fish, snails and other marine life that can be found in the Gulf.
Upon completion, the ocean will include two rocky forest, and numerous walkways overlooking the site.
An ocean gallery serves to relay the story of the connection between desert and sea, and provides educational information for both children and adults.
The ocean will complement a fog desert, tropical rainforest, and mangrove – all familiar sites under the glass of the Biosphere 2 dome.
While the desert sea will serve to entertain guests, it is also vital to expanding the educational reach of the University of Arizona, which has owned the Biosphere 2 for the past seven years.
The facility gives interested students a chance to work in a real-life situation that duplicates a potential working environment as opposed to the standard lab-controlled projects that might come when studying marine biology or environmental research.
“It’s a lab setting versus a nature setting,” said John Adams, deputy director of the Biosphere 2. “We know there are some things we’re able to do with this facility, and some things we aren’t able to do, but we’re always trying to push our limits. We are driven by research protocol. We want young scientists to come in here and say, ‘Did you think about this?’”
For more information on the Biosphere 2, or for events related to the new renovations, visit b2science.org.