Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla’s marine mosaic opens to the public
Fencing came down Oct. 19 as the public was welcomed to the long-awaited Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla Educational Plaza at Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores, three days after a limited-attendance ribbon cutting.
Hundreds of thousands of mosaic tiles embedded in the ground make up a 2,200-square-foot LithoMosaic containing more than 100 life-size mosaics of creatures found just offshore, as well as markers of significant underwater canyons and varying shades of blue to mark ocean depths.
Information panels include photos of the species found in “The Map” and QR codes to scan for more details.
At the Oct. 16 unveiling, speakers from the scientific, educational, oceanographic, scuba diving, surfing, swimming and cultural communities addressed how The Map will contribute to their missions and the legacy of La Jolla Shores resident and oceanographer Walter Munk, who died in February 2019 at 101.
The project was shepherded by the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans as a way to honor Munk. His widow, Mary Coakley Munk, is a founding board member.
“Walter loved this project, especially because it was all about the ocean he so loved and the educational opportunities it will provide for children of all ages,” Coakley Munk said at the ceremony. “Especially at a time when climate change is putting our planet in such peril.”
San Diego City Council member and mayoral candidate Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla, said Munk’s contributions as an oceanographer and a geophysicist “allowed for a greater understanding of ocean currents, tides, deep ocean mixing, wind waves, tsunamis, seismic waves and the Earth’s rotation.”
“Even at 100 years old, he studied the effects of climate change on sea level rise and its impact,” Bry said. “The Map will enable all who visit The Shores to see all of Walter’s work and his discoveries depicted on this incredible piece of educational art.”
Ocean Discovery Institute founder and Executive Director Shara Fisler said she would integrate trips to see The Map into the mission of her City Heights-based education center. “We all know how Walter’s commitment to science changed the world and changed our lives, but something that continues to blow my mind is his commitment to art and inspiring the next generation,” she said. “We are so excited about being able to utilize this in our curriculum.”
The Map was made using a process called LithoMosaic — invented and fabricated by artists Robin Brailsford and Wick Alexander — and construction involved 24 concrete workers taking 4-by-5-foot sheets of mesh with the tiles on them and laying them backward and upside down and placing them so every edge lined up.
Alexander spoke about how he and Brailsford started as “Walter’s biggest fans” but soon “he became our biggest fan.”
Alexander explained the painstaking effort that went into fabricating each species at their studio and at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where the project was housed for months while it was in development.
“Each tile was placed with aesthetic considerations but also by informational consideration,” he said. “Yes, it is beautiful, and the world is starved for beauty right now. But it is our hope that The Map will inspire people and that people will love it and will want to know more and will want to protect what it represents.”
City Parks & Recreation Director Andy Field said: “I have seen a transformation happen here at Kellogg Park. … It’s a testament to community involvement and the interest in making this a better park. It all culminates here today with this Map. To see this in position now for kids all over the county and visitors from all over the world to come see it is going to put a nice mark on what is the La Jolla Underwater Park. … This is a great way to introduce the canyon to those that know nothing about it. On behalf of the parks department, I appreciate all your roles in making this a reality today.”
Coakley Munk concluded that “it took a lot of work by a lot of wonderful people to get this set up and I cannot thank you all enough.”
The road to The Map
The unveiling was more than a decade in the making.
The first iteration of The Map was installed in September 2008 under the auspices of Friends of La Jolla Shores, with areas of increasingly deeper shades of crushed blue glass to show depth and more than 300 two-dimensional, bronze life-size replicas of the native species — all covered in a laminating product called Lithocrete.
However, soon after its opening, The Map started to crumble and the city closed off the area in late 2009. The Map’s fabricator, T.B. Penick, repaired it in April 2010, but it started deteriorating again. In fall 2012, the city again closed the area, calling it a “safety hazard.”
In June 2013, Friends of La Jolla Shores sued T.B. Penick for compensation so it could use another contractor to replace The Map. The two groups settled on a deal in summer 2015 to replace The Map with mosaic tiles that would be more durable and require less maintenance, with Penick agreeing to pay $50,000 toward the replacement. As part of the settlement, the new plans would have to have a fence to slow foot traffic and reduce the maintenance it would need.
In late 2017, Friends of La Jolla Shores contracted Brailsford and Alexander to execute the new Map, and the artists presented the completed segments and sketches in October 2018.
At the time, The Map was being assembled and stored in the Southwest Fisheries Science Center building, which had been decommissioned so it could be renovated.
The intent was to have The Map installed in 2019 to celebrate Munk’s 102nd birthday Oct. 19, but he died in February that year. With less urgency, the plans were expanded and the project was renamed to The Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla Educational Plaza. Shortly before Munk’s death, the Munks founded the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans to execute the project.
Two complaints about the project were filed with the California Coastal Commission. One argued that it was not a repair and replacement but actually a new project and therefore subject to a coastal development permit and additional approvals. The other argued that the fencing was unnecessary and would impede beach access. Both failed.
But the complaints pushed the project back, and it came up against a deadline. Renovation was scheduled to begin on the Southwest Fisheries Science Center building in which it was being assembled, and the space had to be vacated by Feb. 1, 2020.
The contract to start work was signed in January and the installation process began on Valentine’s Day.
The Map is now open for public exploration, in time for the 103rd anniversary of Munk’s birth. To view The Map online and learn more about the species in it, visit waltermunkway.com.
A video tour of The Map and video from the ribbon cutting ceremony will be posted on the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans YouTube channel. ◆