August 18, 2000


"Ocean Oasis," Giant-Screen Film on Baja California, to Open at Smithsonian's Natural History Museum

Washington, DC — "Ocean Oasis," a giant-screen film about the Baja California peninsula and the Sea of Cortés — one of the world's richest and most beautiful ecosystems— opens Sept. 13, at the Johnson IMAX Theater in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Summerhays Films produced the new $5 million, 38-minute film in collaboration with the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Mexican conservation organization PRONATURA.

The Baja peninsula stretches 700 miles from southern-most California (in the United States) into and along Mexico's Pacific coast. Only 100 miles at its widest point, this region's variety of habitats —ocean to coast to mountains, desert and gulf— has given rise to an exceptional diversity and density of animals and plants. This richness, reflected by more than 900 species of fish and marine mammals, makes Baja California one of the most significant ecosystems in the world.

"Ocean Oasis' is an important introduction to the extraordinary natural beauty and ecological significance of Baja California, and strongly complements the educational mandate of the Smithsonian," said Robert Fri, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "In addition, the bi-national cooperation that led to this film's creation is an excellent model for future joint stewardship of the region."

"We are proud to premiere `Ocean Oasis' at the Smithso-nian," said Michael Hager, executive producer of the film and director of SDNHM. "Ocean Oasis' is one of many important results of our long standing research work in Baja California and the Sea of Cortés. In the past decade alone, San Diego Museum researchers have discovered more than 15 new species in this uniquely abundant region. Unfortunately, we also have seen whole populations of marine species decimated by over fishing." In fact, the film makers had to negotiate through fishing lines and nets to record some underwater sequences.

"Ocean Oasis" explores the nutrient-rich cool waters inhabited by gray whales, manta rays, moray eels, sharks, and brilliantly colored corals; coastal communities of enormous elephant seals, and gulls and terns by the tens of thousands; desert conditions so dry that some animals never drink water; and, snow-covered mountains that soar nearly two miles into the sky.

Exequiel Ezcurra, chairman of the film's scientific advisory committee and deputy director of research and collections at SDNHM, guides the viewer through Baja's undersea riches and on-land exotica, with additional narration from Iliana Ortega Bacmeister, a biologist and the on-camera guide in the underwater sequences.

Ezcurra led a 10-member, bi-national scientific advisory committee that helped to ensure a strong scientific basis for the film and its components.

"People who know Baja California have a strong emotional bond with the region," said Soames Summerhays, the film's director and owner of the production company Sum-merhays Films Inc. "One of the chief goals of the film is fostering an emotional bond with the region by a wider audience. The giant-screen format is ideal for audiences to experience the awe and wonder that one feels traveling through Baja California."

Public awareness of the region is a parallel goal. Though geographically contiguous with the most populous state in the United States, Baja California and its natural riches are little known. Consequently, unimpeded development and heavy over fishing threaten the region. For example, the Laguna San Ignacio, a United Nations World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve on Baja's Pacific Coast —a spawning and nursing ground for gray whales that annually migrate 12,000 miles from the Alaska coast— was a proposed site for a desalination plant. Concerns about potential environment entities in both Mexico and the United States, and ultimately to the cancellation of the facility.

The San Diego Natural History Museum, founded in 1874 and located in historic Balboa Park, is dedicated to increasing knowledge and understanding of the southern California and Baja California region through research, education and exhibits. For information visit the museum's home page on the World Wide Web at www.sdnhm.org.

PRONATURA A.C. is Mexico's oldest and largest non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystems and natural resources throughout the country. For information about PRONATURA's work in Baja California, visit the organiza-tion's home page on the World Wide Web at www.pronatura.org.mx.

The National Museum of Natural History, located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For further information visit the museum's home page on the World Wide Web at www.nmnh.si.edu.

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