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Estuarine Immersion

Jump right in at Calvert Marine Museum

Visit Calvert Marine Museum starting October 11 and you’ll see all the way from the heights of the sky to the sheltering shallows to the dark depths. You’ll see life beneath the surface. You’ll see octopoid special effects that outsmart CGI animation, part of the ordinary antics of 150 species in the greater Chesapeake community.
    What you won’t see is how this miracle of 21st century estuarine immersion came to be.
    For that, listen in with us on the stories of backstage creators who conspired for more than four years to bring you the Estuarine Biology Gallery.

Dreaming Big

    Calvert Marine Museum’s Estuarine Biology Gallery was out of date. Exhibits that captured imaginations in 1992 no longer had the right stuff. Masterminding an exhibit “to meet the public’s readiness to engage in resilience thinking and action” was …

David Moyer, Curator of Estuarine Biology
    “We really focused on enabling people to identify with what’s going on beneath the waves in our new permanent exhibit, River to Bay: Reflections and Connections. Using our mission to interpret the tidal Chesapeake, we have reached from salty waters just beyond the Bay all the way up to freshwater tributaries that directly connect big cities like Washington, Baltimore and Richmond. You’ll see representations of all those habitats and their species, which I’ve gone out, caught, collected safely transported back.
    “We have maybe 150 species, including sharks and octopus. I wasn’t expecting the diversity we’ve been able to find in all these different places. It was fantastic.
    “It’s also a testament to resilience. Given opportunity, the Bay appears to have tremendous ability to recover from human impacts. The new exhibit includes human impacts, both negative — like the formation of dead zones — and positive, showing things we do can help.”

Bringing in the Money

    A plan is a wonderful thing, but it’s going nowhere without funding. Creating a state-of-the-art Estuarine Biology Gallery for the media-savvy but environment-deprived citizens of the second decade of the 21st century would cost $277,500.
    Raising a quarter of a million dollars was the job of …

Sherrod Sturrock, Deputy Director
    “We were looking at an Institute of Museums and Library Services grant as the anchor piece. To get the top grant — $150,000 — the first time is very rare. In applying for this very competitive national grant, I had a secret weapon, volunteer Ed Kobrinski, an experienced federal grants writer. His reading of what I wrote and pushing me made the difference between a good grant and a winning proposal. We got $142,500 from the Institute. The Maryland Heritage Area Authority added $25,000, and $25,000 from our Calvert County operating budget went to this project.”

A Little Bit Extra

    Even the best fundraising doesn’t make every wish come true. Grants won’t cover some things, and other things turn up at the last minute. That’s when you pray for private donations. Fundraisers like the Bugeye Ball and direct donations added $85,000 more. Two of the givers supported the Lionfish Tank in the Eco-Invaders area — and provided a bit of a cushion …

Barbara and Stan Benning: Patrons
    “We’ve been coming to Calvert from Gaithersburg for weekends since the 1950s, and the museum had become part of our lives. We took our children and our grandchildren, and we’ll be taking our great-grandchild, born this July 4.
    “For the new Eastuarine Biology Gallery, the museum was going to be able to do all they wanted but one particular display. That would have to be put off as they didn’t have enough money.”

Making It Immersive

    Museum staff did 90 percent of this new exhibit: carpentry, lighting, painting, graphic design, text panels, computer programming and artwork, all under the direction of …

Jim Langley: Curator of Exhibits
    “We’re the sensory department. Our people are so creative that anything we imagine, they can do. We tried to make an immersive experience with sights, sounds, things you can touch, so you’d feel you were some place comfortable, someplace you haven’t been before and want to come back to — not in a room with blocks of words you have to read.
    “We did all our own lighting, all LED. Lights on the floor make it feel so much like water you may wish for motion sickness relief. Sounds like foghorns in deep water and bell buoys in the shallows are triggered by your motion. Color keeps your curiosity up and builds anticipation.
    “Our mission: inform, entertain and inspire.”

Painting the Big Picture

Tim Scheirer: Painter
    “For a 110-foot-long, two-foot-high mural that runs around the top of the wall, I collected a lot of bits and pieces for the scenic flow from the mouth of the Bay to freshwater areas. The subject matter — fish and birds and villages and boaters — are rendered fairly realistically, with the sky more graphic like my design in the Discovery Room.
    “I also took a roller and painted walls.”

Adding Life

Laura Magdeburger: Aquarist
    In addition to captaining the boat that collects species, Magdeburger also gathers, feeds and cares for the 150 species borrowed from the wild for six new aquariums, ranging from deep water to tidal tributaries, plus the octopus-illustrated Struggles to Survive and Eco-Invaders, featuring the weirdly beautiful and voracious invader, the lionfish.
    Not only living things are under this captain’s command. She also rebuilt an oyster reef for the exhibit.

Words and Graphics

Rachel Reese: Graphic Artist
    “Curators develop the content of each exhibit. We make it pretty and presentable. Bright bold graphics make captions you want to read, while you might walk past giant paragraphs. Digital images flip through every creature in the tanks, flashing facts you can match with the fish you see swimming.”


Michael Godfrey: Computer programmer
    “We start with a storyboard, then break down graphically what assets — sound, pictures, visuals — we need. To create it, we write code.
    “It takes 7,000 lines of code to run What Does the Fish Say, cartoons of a bunch of different fish that you touch to listen to the sounds they make.”

And Everything Else

Tom and Sandra Younger: Volunteers
    “We’ve been volunteering at the museum for many years, since we retired. On this project, since January, we pitched in along with at least a dozen other people, including four or five volunteers, to do anything that needs to be done: Put up the panels, move the tanks. It’s been a joint effort, and luckily we haven’t had any accidents.”

Open daily 10am-5pm. Solomons. $9 w/discounts: