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Learning to Live with Nature
Nicholas Dawidoff
May 03, 1993
A museum near San Francisco teaches visitors about their environment
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May 03, 1993

Learning To Live With Nature

A museum near San Francisco teaches visitors about their environment

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Also on the second level is an interactive game called Take a Big Mac Apart, which challenges a participant to match the ingredients of a fast-food hamburger with their sources on the farm, part of an exhibit that deals with the impact of agriculture on the environment. On this level too are a number of exhibits that focus on the erosion of hillsides, global warming, toxic waste and an exploding human population.

Down in the baylands, the borderland between land and ocean, a boardwalk winds between two models of mud flats. The healthy mud flat on the left is freckled with ghost shrimp holes and clam mounds. The mud flat on the right is heaped with rubbish. "When the productivity of the baylands decreases, so does the life of mankind," warns a sign. Visitors are encouraged to dispose of their litter properly, to recycle and to resist the overdevelopment of marsh areas; San Francisco Bay today is roughly half the size it was 150 years ago.

Near the exit, in the coastal display, there's a 600-gallon tank that demonstrates what happens to the ocean when factories dump sludge through underwater pipes. It's not a pretty sight. There are also whale displays, notes on cliff-dwelling birds and a sandy-beach diorama that effectively underscores the severity of the environmental problems the museum addresses. The beach is meant to look as though visitors leaving it have left the sand littered with soda cans and candy wrappers.

More than 100,000 visitors walk through the Environmental Education Museum each year, and Liebes is used to people bolting into her office after a tour to exclaim, "I've got to try and do something to save the earth!" Besides presenting the exhibits, Coyote Point also sponsors seminars for grade school and high school teachers, offers a range of programs for schoolchildren and sells banana-slug T-shirts in its gift shop.

Ashby is pleased with the museum, and he has reason to be. "Some of the text might seem less poignant than it did 12 years ago," he says. "That's because we've accomplished what we set out to do—making people realize how much messing up they do."

The museum, which is 10 minutes south of San Francisco Airport, off Highway 101 at Coyote Point Park, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00 and on Sunday from 12:00 to 5:00. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for those under 18.

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