The Coast News Group
Visitors to the Birch Aquarium can get up close and personal with tide pool creatures and enjoy a spectacular view of the La Jolla coastline on the back patio of the aquarium. Included with admission is an immersive art exhibition, Hold Fast, that demonstrates the impact of climate change on our local kelp forests. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
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‘Hold Fast’: Birch exhibit explores kelp amid changing climate


We know it’s out there in the ocean, and occasionally we find it a nuisance when navigating the tangles that have been deposited on the beach.

Mostly though, kelp is an afterthought.

Some, however, have given it a lot of thought.

Behold the exhibition Hold Fast: A New Way to Experience Kelp” at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego in La Jolla. Artists and scientists and some who are both present a new way to think about the large brown algae that we often call seaweed.

The exhibit title has dual meanings. The single word “holdfast” is a root-like structure that enables kelp to hang on to even the smallest rock to keep from floating away. And as two words and a verb, “hold fast” means to hang on firmly with hope, which is what environmental advocates must do today.

Foam cushions invite visitors to sit, lie or bounce while contemplating the large gyotaku prints of local species by artist Dwight Hwang at the Hold Fast exhibit. Gyotaku combines the Japanese words “gyo” (fish) and “taku” (stone impression) and was used in the mid-1800s by fishermen to record their prized catches. Today, artists smear the fish with ink, cover the fish with rice paper, then rub to transfer the image onto the paper. Courtesy photo/Birch Aquarium

“Warming waters and giant kelp don’t mix,” says Megan Dickerson, aquarium director of exhibits and co-curator of the installation. “We have to be realistic about the outsized impact that climate change has on our local giant kelp forests…but at the same time, local people are doing beautiful things. This Hold Fast installation posits that the actions of local artists and scientists can give us hope that together, as a community, we can make collective change as we also acknowledge climate trauma.”

The partially interactive exhibit has elements that appeal to both children and adults, who will learn, through the work of Scripps Oceanography doctorate student Mohammad Sedarat, why “critical giant kelp ecosystems have not returned since recent marine heatwaves” and how to bring them back.

Besides artworks focusing on kelp and the animals who inhabit our coastal waters, there are videos showing what Scripps research scientists are accomplishing and how they are doing it.

The exhibit is included with admission and runs through Sept. 2.

For more photos and discussion, visit

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