The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History was awarded a grant of $336,650 for its marine educational facility – the Ty Warner Sea Center – by the California Department of Parks and Recreation through the Nature Education Facilities Program of Proposition 84, a 2006 bond measure approved by voters, which support projects that increase public understanding and knowledge of California’s natural resources. The grant will help the Museum renovate the lower level of the Sea Center with the development of its new California Coastal Immersion Zone focusing on marine life in the Santa Barbara Channel. The Sea Center’s project (expected to open in winter 2013) was one of 44 granted an award – and the only one in the city of Santa Barbara.
“This grant comes at an ideal time for us as we are planning to revitalize the Sea Center’s exhibits so that we can continue to be a relevant resource to our community and visitors,” stated Development Officer Carrie Le Blanc. The new Zone exhibit will be divided into four areas utilizing live animal encounters, hands-on experiences, short interpretive films, interactive technology, and mostimportantly, human interaction through trained docents.
The first area focuses on local tidepool ecosytems and provides the visitor an opportunity to see and feel the power and wonder of the ocean through its existing 1,500-gallon wave simulator tank. Next, the popular shark tank will continue to give visitors a chance to come face-to-face with a shark through guided touch-encounters. The shark exhibit area will also include a shark “nursery,” a giant egg case interactive, and research lockers highlighting local marine scientists. The newest area of the Zone will have the Touch Pool featuring a wide range of intertidal zone animals where the visitor can directly connect with nature through a guided, hands-on encounter. The Touch Pool will emphasize the relationship between individuals and the ocean by highlighting the simple changes that people can make in their everyday lives to improve the local watershed and the overall health of the ocean. Finally, visitors will enter the new MPA exhibit area and learn about the challenges the oceans face due to pollution, habitat destruction, over-exploitation, and how people can be the solution to these issues. An “MPA” is a “Marine Protected Area,” and the Santa Barbara Channel is home to the largest MPA off the continental United States. An MPA has the capacity to restore marine ecosystems locally and globally.
“I’m very pleased that the Museum and Sea Center will be awarded this grant so that it may continue its great work educating the public about the importance of our ocean environment,“ said U.S. Representative Lois Capps. “The hands-on, interactive exhibit will bring home to kids and adults alike what concrete steps we all can take to reduce water pollution and protect the marine and coastal ecosystems that sustain us,” she continued.
One of the primary objectives of the new Zone is to show how the choices people make everyday can directly affect the health of the marine environment. As such, sustainability will be an integral part of the design approach as it applies to materials and equipment, energy usage, service life, and functionality, while keeping the focus of the exhibit. In fact, sustainability is more than a buzz word at the Museum and Sea Center, as the Sea Center has been certified a “Green Business” by the Green Business Program of Santa Barbara County, which recognizes businesses that go above and beyond complying with applicable regulations and required measures.
“We incorporate sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices into every aspect of the Sea Center,” stated Sea Center Director Amanda Hendrickson. “With the new Zone, our goal is to elicit change in human behavior by demonstrating the value of marine resources, highlighting the challenges that face these resources, and providing clear solutions for making a neutral or positive impact upon these resources.”
The Nature Education Facilities Program funds projects for development of nature education facilities, buildings, structures and exhibit galleries that present collections to inspire and educate the public and for marine wildlife conservation research equipment and facilities. More than 300 applications requesting about $1 billion were received for the $93 million available in the 2011 funding cycle. A tiered funding schedule enabled funding of a broad variety of sizes and types of projects and allowed applicants to compete against other projects requesting a similar amount. A total of 44 grants were awarded in all tiers and range from $32,000 to $7 million. Although the actual numbers of applications received in each tier impacted the overall distribution of funds, the outstanding quality of the projects awarded in each tier is consistent with the program’s intent.
“With the number of competitive applications, winning this grant is a wonderful commendation to the Museum and Sea Center,” said Museum Executive Director Karl Hutterer. “In the end, the real beneficiaries are the community, marine environment, and natural world.”