Rachel Kippen, Our Ocean Backyard

In the spring of 2020, like many museums and indoor public gathering places across the country, NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center temporarily closed its doors to the public in accordance with local, state and federal authorities to mitigate risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Located directly across from the Santa Cruz Wharf and Cowell Beach, the Exploration Center has served locals and tourists with ocean science and conservation education programs since it opened a decade ago. Chelsea Prindle, manager of the Sanctuary Exploration Center, is delighted to announce the reopening of the center on Thursday. Free entry.

Prindle describes the center as “a place where people can understand that we have a marine sanctuary just off our coast that is part of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary System.” Prindle adds: “This is an incredibly productive and unique ocean area that deserves to be protected. Our goal is for people to come to the Exploration Center, learn something new about the sanctuary’s biodiversity or ongoing research, while feeling inspired to take personal action to protect and care for it more.

Staff from the Sanctuary Exploration Center assist students in the Deep Sea Exhibit. (Alicia Telfer Photography/Contributor)

“We will be open to the public Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., for now,” Prindle says. The center offered school outings in the fall and spring, as well as special events for the public, such as First Fridays and Saturday morning family activities. During the shutdown, new exhibits on microplastics and another on deep sea research have been added, and the centre’s state-of-the-art theater is now showing a new nine-minute film about the deep-sea octopus garden at Davidson Seamount, explored in 2018. “We are currently booking school trips for the fall, and we are also planning to offer First Fridays and story times for toddlers in the early fall. We are putting our volunteers back into action and recruiting new guides to serve our high capacity community with new and exciting content.

The past two years of closure have presented challenges as well as opportunities for growth. “The closing was really, really tough,” says Prindle. “We are an in-person, service-oriented facility that is here for the public good. We thrive on people-to-people relationships, not only with the public, but also internally within our volunteer community. Our volunteers dedicate their time to educating the public in person,” Prindle shares. “Closing our doors has impacted our ability to deliver in-person programs and our volunteers to share their passion for ocean protection and conservation. I heard time and time again that they deeply miss the role they play in our community, and that not being able to serve was difficult for them on a personal level.

Following the closure, however, Exploration Center staff, volunteers and the public have remained connected through technology, and their audience has grown. “The pivot to remote learning was bittersweet,” says Prindle. “Hosting in-person programs is where we’re most effective, especially when we’re on the beach or on the dock.” One good thing about delivering virtual programs is that Prindle and his team have reached new audiences who might not have attended on-site programs. “Our public webinars have attracted an international audience of up to 800 people at a time. We could never have exposed so many people from all over the planet to what we do here at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary if we hadn’t offered virtual programming,” says Prindle. “Similarly, delivering our school programs online has become beneficial as we have created distance learning courses and continued to serve local teachers and students as well as new inland communities on the Central Coast, from Fresno and San Luis Obispo. We want them to know that we are connected across the watershed and that we share this sanctuary,” says Prindle.

Summer is an exciting time to reopen. “Santa Cruz is a world-class tourist destination,” says Prindle. “When the weather is good and people visit the wharf, the beach, the boardwalk, whenever there is a crowd in town, the Center will also be busy. Typically, after the summer is over, we interact with school groups and educational partners, as well as locals who visit the Center to explore and shop at the year-round gift shop. »

Exploration center staff show visitors plankton.  (Chelsea Prindle, NOAA/Contributor)
Exploration center staff show visitors plankton. (Chelsea Prindle, NOAA/Contributor)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, as well as the 30th anniversary of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In commemoration of these milestones, the United States Postal Service will issue a series of 16 new stamps featuring National Marine Sanctuaries, on the first day of the issuance ceremony held at the Exploration Center on August 5 and open to the public. .

On September 18, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary will celebrate its 30th anniversary by hosting “Sanctuary Fest” in partnership with the Pu Pu ‘O Hawai’i Outrigger Club’s annual Aloha Races at the Santa Cruz Wharf. The event will also feature exhibitors, activities at the center and provide free recreational opportunities for families to get in the water. Prindle encourages the public to sign up for the center’s email newsletter to stay up to date on all events, programs and express interest in volunteerism by emailing [email protected]

“I’m very excited about bringing our volunteers together. I have been heartened and so thankful that we have volunteers dedicated enough that they have remained engaged over the past two years and are ready, willing and eager to return. I look forward to spending time together. Prindle says, “I live in Santa Cruz, I’m from here, I chose to raise my family here, and having the community come together means a lot to me personally. We are a marine science learning resource that strives to serve our local people as well as our summer tourists. Come visit us.”

Rachel Kippen is an ocean educator and sustainability advocate in Santa Cruz County and can be reached at [email protected]

To participate

What: Reopening of the NOAA Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center.

When: Thursday.

Where: 35 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.

Information: [email protected]

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