The MAP of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla has opened in honor of the enduring legacy of the late, world-renowned oceanographer Walter Munk.

Munk would have celebrated his 103rd birthday on Monday, the day the educational plaza opened at Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores. It sits on Walter Munk Way, adjacent to the children’s playground.

When he died last year, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen called Munk “a world treasure for ocean science and geophysics” and “a provocative force in science for 80 years.”

Yet the geophysicist also focused on home, contributing to community projects in La Jolla, including shaping work on a plaza that depicted the marine life he loved.

Walter Munk
Walter Munk. Photo: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

It illustrates 123 life-size species, from a tiny Spanish shawl to a 31-foot image of J.J., an orphaned baby gray whale.

The MAP also marks dive and surf sites, Marine Protected Areas, the water depth of the La Jolla and Scripps Canyons and many other wonders to be found just offshore.

Artists Robin Brailsford and Wick Alexander, aided by Mariah Armstrong Connor and Kelsey Hartley, fabricated the plaza at the Scripps Southwest Fisheries building.

The MAP, a LithoMosaic, is made up of 500,000 tiles, each hand cut and glued to a mesh backing.

“It is our hope that the map will inspire, and that people will love it and will want to know more and want to protect what it represents,” Alexander said at the official opening.

Entry to the plaza is free. The MAP and the accompanying educational panels can viewed in person or virtually as an educational tool. ArtsBusExpress will offer virtual learning opportunities for San Diego County students, while AltaSea will provide virtual field trips via Zoom for students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans, which guided the creation of the MAP, also aims to continue his work. One such project, in Austria, will allow researchers to examine Lake Altaussee to study the human impacts on the water and whether microfiber pollution poses a threat to it.

– Staff reports