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Redondo Beach SEA Lab rebounds from chemical leak

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Brent Scheiwe watches the red octopus at the SEA Lab on May 8. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Brent Scheiwe watches the red octopus at the SEA Lab on May 8. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Early February saw a tragedy at the Redondo Beach LA Conservation Corps’ SEA Lab. More than half of the sea life in the facility was killed by high chlorine levels due to a faulty coupling in an incoming bleach pipe.

The entire volunteer-run White Sea Bass Restoration Program was wiped out — all 6,961 fish were bagged along with many other species from the SEA Lab. Volunteers, employees and interns spent days removing dead fish, taking care of surviving fish, and cleaning out the empty aquariums.

Since February, aquariums in the South Bay and surrounding areas have been stepping up to help the SEA Lab restock the lost fish. Over 250 new fish and animals have since been added to the SEA Lab family including White Sea Bass, which are thriving.

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“The last batch [of Sea Bass] was a great bunch,” said Rich Ford, a volunteer for the White Sea Bass program. “They were almost like children to us.”

The majority of bottom dwellers and slow-moving fish survived the bleach contamination, but many, including the schooling fish, were unable to survive.

“We’ve slowly been restocking by working with aquariums,” said Brent Scheiwe, the program director at the SEA Lab. “When aquariums have surplus fish, they have been kind enough to share them with us.”

The SEA Lab has slowly been restocking their marine life. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan.

The SEA Lab has slowly been restocking their marine life. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan.

The California Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and Heal the Bay in Santa Monica have contributed new animals to the Redondo Beach facility.

Just days after the accident, SEA Lab was able to open its doors to school groups and tours.

“We consolidated the fish we had in holding tanks and focused mostly on those,” said Scheiwe. “We still had an educational experience for people visiting.”

For SEA Lab, the sadness for the loss wasn’t just for the dead fish; for them it was also a tragedy to lose so many animals that helped educate the public.

“We are still a little sad for the loss,” said Scheiwe. “But we’ve been building on the positives and we’re excited for the new animals, and the staff is excited to learn new things.”

SEA Lab has received nine rescued red octopus, a new batch of schooling sardines and mackerel from the Redondo Beach harbor, and a pair of 18-inch juvenile Leopard Sharks from the Cabrillo aquarium.

“It took us weeks to refocus and make sure that didn’t happen again,” said Scheiwe. “West Basin [Municipal Water District] was very proactive. We ran off our temporary water supply to make sure the water was clear. We’re back to our original water supply now, but we’ve stopped working with the chlorine and we have different filters and systems in place now.”

West Basin, the company in charge of the desalination intake system which was a part of the leakage, has committed to fund marine life replacement efforts. These efforts include buying filtration equipment and an emergency-operations holding tank. They will also be giving SEA Lab water testing equipment. They also offered to replace the wildlife, but SEA Lab declined their offer.

“One great thing about the aquarium community is that we’re tight knit and work together,” said Scheiwe. “Different aquariums immediately reached out to help us out.”

Divers from West Basin pinpointed the problem as soon as possible and representatives worked with SEA Lab to make sure the contamination didn’t happen again.

“The process of working with West Basin has been positive and cooperative,” said L.A. Conservation Corps Executive Director Bruce Saito in a press release from West Basin. “They were quick to come up with solutions to an unfortunate accident and are following through on their commitments to make the SEA Lab whole.”

According to West Basin, one of the major motivations of the desalination demonstration facility remains finding and implementing ways to protect marine life.

“West Basin and the community have great affection for the local aquarium and we look forward to its continued success,” said West Basin Board President Donald Dear.

“We’re rebuilding slowly,” said Scheiwe. “We’re just happy to educate the public and work with West Basin to make things right. We’ve been here 14 years, previously without any problems. We want to be prepared for problems in the future.”

The SEA Lab is located at 1021 N. Harbor Drive and is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The facility will also be operating summer day camps for 4-to-6-year-olds and 7-to-10-year-olds starting July 16. For more information and to register visit www.lacorps.org/sealab.php.

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