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Clean water classroom comes to Atlanta

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The artist, known simply as Wyland, can walk out of his studio in Laguna Beach, Calif., on any given day and see whales swimming by.

Wyland, 51, has been fascinated by the ocean since he was a small child. He would see and read about the adventures of marine biologist, Jacques Cousteau, and try to imagine the fish, and other forms of life that lived in the oceans.

He usually sees gray whales swimming by. But he saw something different when he looked out on the sea on Wednesday.Whales were shooting 30-feet-tall spouts of water into the air as their backs breached the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

"They must be blue whales," Wyland said in a telephone interview. "The only kind of whale that shoots spouts that high are blue whales. It's a great sight to see."

As an adult, Wyland is trying to transfer his love of the sea to a new generation of children with educational tours that teach young people about everything that lives under the sea. He will unveil his new Clean Water Mobile Classroom on Saturday, from 11 a.m., to 2 p.m., in the main plaza at the Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St., Atlanta. Admission to the mobile classroom is free.

"We're really excited to have Wyland visit us," said Dave Santucci, a spokesman for the aquarium. "He's such an incredible artist and he shares the same vision that the aquarium has, which is the conservation of water. It just made sense to have him come here. The message of water conservation is especially important right now, when we're experiencing a drought in the southeast."

Wyland has been creating art based on underwater life for 29 years.

He visited the Pacific Ocean when he was 14, and was struck by what he saw as beautiful scenery. "I decided the ocean would be the focus of my life's work, and that's what I've done," he said. "Time flies when you're saving the planet."

He decided art would be the best way to promote environmental conservation, because he believed people would more likely respond to an image rather than words. He gets inspiration for his works by going on diving trips around the world. He is the official artist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He founded the Wyland Foundation, which promotes the ocean through national tours and classroom materials, in 1993.

Wyland has been working, since 1981 on a project to create "Whaling Walls" on the sides of buildings around the world. These murals depict whales swimming in the ocean. His 50th Whaling Wall was painted in six days in 1993 on the side of a parking deck next to Underground Atlanta.

"It's definitely one of my best murals," Wyland said. "I've painted 95 walls so far, and my final wall will be done in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics."

For Wyland, the visit to Atlanta gives him an opportunity to do two things: Return to the city where he created his favorite entry in his Whaling Wall series, and visit the Georgia Aquarium for the first time. He's eager to provide children with an opportunity to learn about water conservation, though.

The mobile classroom is designed to let visitors travel though different water environments as a "drop of water," Wyland said. The guests will travel through environments, such as rivers, estuaries, and oceans. At the end of visit to the mobile classroom, the visitor will come out as "clean water." The guests will be asked to sign water conservation pledges, where they promise to use less water in their homes.

"If we're going to save our oceans, we have to think about other sources of water, like rivers, lakes and estuaries, as well," Wyland said. "The 20th Century was a disaster for the world's water supply. We need an environmental renaissance in the 21st Century.

"I truly believe the young people want to save the oceans, and this mobile classroom could inspire one of them to become the next Jacques Cousteau. Once you plant that seed in a young person's mind, there's no telling how much it can grow."

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On the net:

The Wyland Foundation: http://www.wylandfoundation.org