'The idea is to bridge the world of art and science," says Wyland, an artist, author, and educator who goes by one name. The artist's role in conservation is even bigger than his life-size murals of marine life. On Saturday, August 13, and Sunday, August 14, the Wyland Ocean Challenge tour, which is in its second year, will stop in San Diego. "We started up in Alaska, and we're making our way down to La Paz, Mexico. Our final stop [in the States] is Birch Aquarium at Scripps, my favorite place," Wyland says. "We've been doing a Wyland Weekend down there for six years." According to the Wyland Ocean Challenge website, the tour is "designed to instruct and inspire young people everywhere about marine science and the conservation of water quality."
The San Diego event will begin with the assistance of the Surfrider Foundation in a cleanup of La Jolla Shores. "Our overall goal is to communicate the importance of clean water and the impact everyone has on the water systems," says Steve Creech, Wyland Foundation project director. A one-thousand-square-foot interactive maze will allow visitors to become a virtual drop of water and follow the drop's most likely path from mountain to ocean.
People will reach "impact points" throughout the maze. At these forks in the road, a decision must be made as to what direction to take. "You're playing the odds, just like water does, and your odds of staying clean are not very good," says Creech. "For instance, there is car exhaust. You can keep your car tuned up or buy a car with lower emissions, and if you make that choice you make a left turn instead of a right turn [in the maze]." The maze features both human impact wheels and the "AZA's [American Zoo and Aquarium Association] wildlife wheel," where a spin of the wheel demonstrates how the laws of nature randomly effect each drop of water.
"The cool thing about the maze," says Creech, is that if people end up in the Unhealthy Ocean, and chances are they will, they can walk through a second and even third time, adjusting choices until they reach the Healthy Ocean.
Creech continues, "I think we're the only organization that ties in art to environmental issues. Our events tend to be real fun and real colorful. People think it's astonishing. You take a subject as basic as water and make it entertaining and informative. That's the hard thing -- water in and of itself doesn't seem very interesting, but it's essential to our existence.
"Ten percent of the world's available fresh water is now privatized, and revenue is equal to forty percent of current oil revenues. If you do the math, you see huge economic incentives for water to be privatized that will make the oil industry look like just another business. You can survive, though not well, without oil, but you sure can't survive without water. People need to demand water as a fundamental human right, and that's another one of our positions.
"We don't want to scare people," Creech adds. "We're more about partnering with educators and focusing on science." He warns, however, "We could be seeing war for water in the next 50 years. Canada will start exporting water and making a ton of money. It could be the next Middle East as far as revenues of exporting water."
As part of his campaign to educate, Wyland offers Ocean Challenge Curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade, downloadable for free in both Spanish and English on his foundation's website.
In the fifth year of his Ocean Challenge, Wyland plans to present the tour to "191 U.N. member countries so that everyone from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from A to Z, will get this program." Wyland has personally cleaned up trash in all 50 states. "I've been diving in the world's oceans for 25 years, and I've seen the devastation firsthand. I've been given so much from the sea, including inspiration for my art, and I want to do everything I can to give back." -- Barbarella
Wyland Ocean Challenge
Saturday, August 13, and Sunday, August 14 Morning: 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
(La Jolla Shores Cleanup with the Surfrider Foundation) Afternoon: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(Water's Extreme Journey Maze and Community Mosaic)
Birch Aquarium, 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla
Info: Beach Cleanup (Surfrider Foundation), 858-792-9940; Art/Science Event (Birch Aquarium), 858-534-3474; www.wylandoceanchallenge.org