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Museum visitors experience reefs, sea monsters

As the temperature continues making its way up, Las Vegas residents can dive down, deep into the depths of the ocean to cool off — or at least feel like they have.

The Las Vegas Natural History Museum welcomes its visitors to experience “Sea Trek,” which explains the structure of coral reefs and some of the animals that live within them, through three interactive exhibits: “Sanctuary Reef,” “Discovery Reef” and “Sea Monsters.” The traveling exhibits will be on display in the downtown museum until Aug. 31.

“Sanctuary Reef” is shaped like the bow of a boat and puts visitors into a replica of a reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The bow features videos on the inside and out that teach visitors about the diversity among plant and animal species on the reef. Visitors can also learn about the human impact on the ecological system with the “Things you can do to keep our ocean blue” tips section displayed on one side of the bow.

A few feet away, “Discovery Reef” lets visitors feel like divers when they look through diving goggles attached to a display of the bottom of the ocean. This exhibit explores the relationships among species on a coral reef and reveals survival strategies through its interactive features. Visitors can turn two wheels that light up a box at the top when the right relationship between species is chosen. There is also a “day and night” panel that shows visitors the contrast of animals during the day and at night at the bottom of the ocean.

To learn about the “monsters” of the sea, visitors can check out the “Sea Monsters” exhibit, which displays the monsterlike characteristics of some of the sea animals. Visitors can look at shark teeth, learn about an octopus’ venom and compare the size of a human eye to a giant squid’s basketball-sized eye. Visitors can also feel the smooth and rough contrast in a shark’s skin when they run their hands over a piece of sandpaper that’s part of the display.

“Every inch of it is very colorful; it’s full of information and it’s very interactive for the kids,” said Marilyn Gillespie, executive director at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

Museum directors thought the exhibit would complement their educational mission, but also be fun for their visitors, Gillespie said.

Grady Dooley, a Las Vegas resident, likes that her 3-year-old son, Cash, can stick his face into diving goggles and pretend he’s underwater.

“That’s a big fish,” said Cash Dooley as he ran off to the “Sanctuary Reef.”

Fred Echaves, who took his two daughters, ages 4 and 6, to the museum, said the exhibit was something different that the girls really liked.

Even though the exhibit is aimed at children Gillespie thinks it’s something everyone, including teenagers and adults, can enjoy and most importantly, learn from.

“We always want to do something that is going to be educational, but we also want to look at the fun element because we know our audience are youngsters,” Gillespie said. “We feel like there’s no problem in having fun as they’re learning. In fact, if they’re having fun they’re going to keep wanting to learn.”

Museum directors also thought the exhibit could help Las Vegas residents keep their minds off the heat.

“We really liked it, too, because in the hot summer talking about oceans and coral reefs just sounds like a nice way to cool off,” she said.

The “Sea Trek” exhibit is also the inspiration for the museum’s 22nd birthday party theme, “Under the Sea.”

The event will take place on July 13 and will include games, activities, a marine life touch tank, food trucks and free ice cream, while supplies last.

Contact reporter Yvette Cruz at ycruz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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