Twilight zone diver

San Francisco (May 16, 2016)—Descend into a deep underwater realm more mysterious to scientists than the surface of the Moon in the California Academy of Sciences’ groundbreaking new aquarium exhibit, Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed. Opening to the public on Friday, June 10, the Academy invites visitors to discover the beauty and importance of the little-known reefs that exist 200 to 500 feet below the ocean's surface—deeper than the range of traditional scuba gear but shallower than depths typically explored by submersibles.

From never-before-seen reef fish that dart in and out of the darkness with vivid pops of neon to alien-like comb jellies that Academy scientists have dubbed “sea peeps” for their cartoonish resemblance to the popular marshmallow confection, newly displayed species and captivating media showcase the diversity of life at depth. While marveling at rarely seen fish and invertebrates, visitors will learn how color changes as depth increases and how flashy hues help these technicolor creatures camouflage where light is scarce and predators loom. Among the exhibit’s many “jewel tanks” will be a special display for recent discoveries, where new and undescribed species will be featured, many for the first time in a public aquarium.

“With every dive to the twilight zone, we never know what we’ll discover. I’m constantly in awe of the fact that much of what we observe and document at these depths has never before been seen by human eyes,” says Bart Shepherd, Senior Director of Steinhart Aquarium and member of the Academy’s scientific diving team. “I’m beyond thrilled to be able to give aquarium visitors a view into these incredible and little-known ecosystems. With so much of the ocean left to explore, I hope this exhibit inspires visitors to learn about what they can do to protect these vitally important marine communities for future generations.”

Visitors can create their own digital light show through immersive interactives that illustrate how bioluminescent marine life, from flashlight fish to tiny microorganisms, use light to communicate in the darkness. Living displays of fluorescent corals will showcase the diverse shallow reef communities that serve as a gateway to life in the twilight zone.

“The twilight zone is one of the least-explored places on our planet, presenting a world of unique and undiscovered biodiversity unlike any other part of the ocean,” says Dr. Luiz Rocha, ichthyology curator and member of the Academy’s scientific diving team. “The species we find in this region are truly unique, and by understanding what lives at these depths, we can make the informed conservation decisions needed to ensure these ecosystems remain healthy and thriving.”

The exhibit will also highlight the advanced underwater technology that allows the Academy’s deep-diving scientists to conduct fieldwork under incredible pressure—quite literally. Visitors will see how divers push the boundaries of human biology while viewing a fully outfitted, life-sized technical scuba diver model—from closed-circuit "rebreathers" that extend the amount of time they can spend underwater to custom decompression chambers designed by Academy biologists that allow fish to safely travel to the surface. A hands-on “Twilight Explorer” game lets visitors simulate the challenge of conducting science hundreds of feet below sea level, where it requires physical and mental stamina to monitor dive time, exertion levels, and life support equipment while exploring this unchartered environment.

In addition to this new exhibit, the Academy will also debut updates to the aquarium’s Coral Reefs of the World gallery, home to its iconic 212,000-gallon Philippine coral reef tank, the deepest indoor exhibit of living corals in the world. Eye-catching graphic displays, new data-rich maps illustrating the state of coral reef health, and immersive media will highlight conservation threats—and success stories—impacting our planet’s coral reefs. Visitors can also learn about ways to sustain these fragile ecosystems through actions at home and in their communities, and discover how the Academy works with partner organizations to promote coral reef restoration around the world. Coral Reefs of the World, including the Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed exhibit, is generously supported by Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Carmel Partners, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and Diana Nelson and John Atwater.

Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed brings to life one part of the Academy’s bold and expansive coral reef initiative, focused on greatly expanding the institution’s leadership in exploring and understanding reefs, advancing coral reef science, and opening an ambitious suite of museum exhibits and educational programs to the public. The Academy will also launch several coral reef-focused programs in support of this new exhibit, in addition to twice daily dive shows in the aquarium’s Philippine coral reef tank and a special NightLife event for adults 21+ on Thursday, June 9.

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