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Santa Barbara - South County

Santa Barbara Sea Center reopens for the first time since pandemic began

Sea Center
Blake DeVine/KEYT
The Sea Center has reopened indoors with a 25% capacity.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center reopened its doors to the public Thursday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“It’s been an incredible experience opening up today to have our volunteers and guest back in exploring the wonders of the Santa Barbara Channel,” Sea Center volunteer and interpretation manager Sam Franz said.

The indoor exhibits had been closed since March 14, while the outdoor exhibits reopened on the pier this summer.

“We’re really excited,” Sea Center director Richard Smalldon said. “All the staff has been really thrilled and working hard to get the place ready to receive visitors.”

To ensure guests and staff enjoy their visit in the safest way possible, the Sea Center has implemented comprehensive health and safety protocols.

This includes a one-way flow of movement from the entrance to exit to allow for social distancing and crowd control, hand washing and hand sanitizing stations throughout the aquarium.

There is also increased cleaning of all public areas, especially high-touch surfaces. 

Masks are mandatory for everyone three years and older. 

Stickers of Garibaldi — the official marine state fish of California — are spread throughout the entire facility to represent physical distancing between guests.

“You follow the Garibaldis in a one-way flow to ensure guest safety,” Franz said. “It helps ensure that one family group is at every exhibit at only one time.”

For Goleta resident Kim Fergus and her three children, this made it easier to enjoy the aquarium.

“It was very easy, the only difference was we had to walk one way,” Fergus said. “Other than that, it didn’t take anything away from the experience.”

During its closure, the Sea Center refreshed its upstairs Jellies & Friends exhibit featuring animals found in the Santa Barbara Channel to include new Giant Pacific Seahorse and coral reef habitats. 

“We’ve been working to bring some new animals up there,” Smalldon said.

Updated exhibit interpretation highlights the channel’s unique biodiversity and explores climate change impacts such as ocean warming and acidification. 

“This helps tell an important story about climate change in the Santa Barbara Channel,” Franz said.

The aquarium estimates a minimum revenue shortfall of $350,000 through the end of 2020.

However, the staff remains focused on providing a fun educational experience for everyone.

“Excited to really reconnect with our visitors and get back to business sharing the importance of the natural world with them,” Smalldon concluded.

The Sea Center is now open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Blake DeVine

Blake DeVine is a multimedia journalist at KEYT NewsChannel 3, KCOY NewsChannel 12 and KKFX My Fox 11

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