Steve Bannon represented financier Ed Bass in his attempt to wrest control of Biosphere 2 from its management team.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star 2012

The University of Arizona will launch its first crowd-funding campaign to plan the transformation of Biosphere 2’s tropical lagoon into an ocean filled with species from the Gulf of California.

Rafe Sagarin, a UA marine ecologist and director of the B2 Ocean, said he hopes to raise enough money from the campaign on RocketHub to produce a solid plan to take to potential backers.

Sagarin said early talks with marine scientists, museum curators and aquarium experts have persuaded him to drain the lagoon and start from scratch, installing a rocky desert island, complete with the cacti that stud islands off the coast of Mexico.

The original ocean, like the original human experiments at Biosphere 2, hit some snags. Most of the tropical fish species in the lagoon died, as did the tropical coral reef.

Planners didn’t count on the effect of oxygen deprivation and the absence of ultraviolet rays, screened out by the glass panels of the 3.14-acre enclosed ecosystem.

Sagarin said he won’t try to “create a tropical coral reef, one of the most difficulty, persnickety animals alive.”

He hopes to eventually stock the 700,000-gallon tank with sea grasses and a variety of “hardy but interesting” species from the gulf, including small sharks, small manta rays and sea turtles.

Sagarin said the transformed ocean will give visitors a sense of the connection between the Sonoran Desert and the Gulf of California, often called the Sea of Cortez. It will also become a place for researchers to plan marine experiments.

For now, workers have spiffed up the underwater viewing area and Sagarin has installed an exhibit about the Sea of Cortez and Biosphere 2’s plans for the space.

The RocketHub campaign — “Build an Ocean in the Desert” — allows donors to qualify for free overnight visits and diving experiences at Biosphere 2.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.