Sea Center reopens outdoors to provide a safe, fun learning environment
With an intense heat wave rushing through California, people were out in bunches at the beach near Stearns Wharf, hoping to catch a breeze and find some relief.
Luckily, while doing so, many also formed a line to enter the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, which reopened Saturday for the first time since the beginning of this pandemic.
“It’s an exciting day for us to kind of finally be open and find a way for us to do that safely,” Richard Smalldon, director for the Sea Center, told the News-Press.
“We’re excited the whole team has been able to pull together and set up an outdoor experience that kind of mimics our indoor experience.”
The Sea Center received permission to open its outdoor spaces to the public and will now be open every weekend from noon to 4:00 p.m.
Some of the places that are open include the wet deck for exploring life beneath Stearns Wharf, as well a few exhibits set up outside.
Those small exhibits include touch-friendly swell sharks, sea anemones, sea stars, and other aquatic life from the Intertidal Wonders exhibit. Some remotely operated underwater vehicles are also placed outside which allow people to catch a glimpse of the ocean floor at depths up to 300 feet.
“There are a lot of people, it seems like, that want to experience this out here and so we’re glad to finally be back doing what we love which is sharing information about the ocean,” Mr. Smalldon said.
He added that the reopening was not too tough, as the Sea Center had been preparing to reopen in July before the current spike in coronavirus cases forced the reclosure of most indoor operations.
“We are part of the museum, so we have seen them reopen the butterfly experience outside, and we are glad we can follow suit with our aquatic exhibits out here,” Mr. Shelldon said.
Saturday was also the perfect day for the Sea Center to reopen, as the warm, breezy conditions produced plenty of foot traffic on the wharf.
“It seems like the first day we opened is when the first day of summer really hit here because it’s been a bit windy so that’s cool,” Mr. Shelldon said with a laugh.
Heidi Wienzkowski, of Northridge, was at the Sea Center Saturday with her husband and two kids.
She said the heat made them want to drive up the coast and find something fun and informative to do.
“We decided to go somewhere by the coast so it’s a little cooler and somewhere outdoors to enjoy with the kids. They love coming to any kind of adult aquatic museum and this was one of the only ones open,” Ms. Wienzkowski said.
She added that while it is important people stay indoors and try to curb the virus, doing low-risk activities like this are also important for people’s mental health.
“We’ve been trying to find creative ways to be outside and enjoy the outdoors. We are extremely lucky to live in a place like Los Angeles and Ventura County where there’s so many things accessible to us that you can still do safely. So I think it’s important for kids to be able, especially kids but grownups too, to be able to get out and not only enjoy the weather but, move your body and get some Vitamin D,” Ms. Wienzkowski said with a laugh.
Families or groups are separated into small cohorts before they enter the wet deck and move to each exhibit as the other groups advance to follow social distancing protocols.
This does increase the wait time, but Mr. Shelldon said families showed no signs of complaint Saturday and just enjoyed their time outside.
“This is kind of what we’re able to do safely right now, just be outside here and when they allow us to open the inside again, then we can find a way to make that as safe as possible,” Mr. Shelldon said.
“But we feel real confident (about being able to keep people safe). We’ve been watching other businesses following the guidance with masks, social distance, hand sanitizer, limited flow and all those are working together for us to provide a safe experience.”
He added that for right now they are content just opening on the weekends for four hours as they still need time to both set up and take down the exhibits each day.
The gift shop is also open, with families being able to grab T-shirts, stuffed animals or other small items.