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Sanctuary Exploration Center

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

NOAA Sanctuary Exploration Center Opens in Santa Cruz

July 27, 2012
Image of the Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, California

The two-story, 12,387 square foot Sanctuary Exploration Center encourages visitors to explore California’s marine environment and the issues impacting the sanctuary (Photo courtesy Mark Stover, Expressive Photographics).

On July 23, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the city of Santa Cruz celebrated the opening of the Sanctuary Exploration Center. This state-of-the-art facility was designed to foster stewardship of the region’s marine ecosystem. The Center is located just steps from the ocean in Santa Cruz’ famed beach area with an estimated 3.5 million visitors per year. It will function as the sanctuary’s premier interactive interpretive facility.

The Exploration Center includes interactive exhibits that are designed to connect people with the water, geology, ecosystem, and the extraordinary diversity of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Exhibits include the Exploration Theater, a walk through a kelp forest, an intertidal touchpool, an open-ocean mini-theater, and a replica deep-sea canyon with a remotely operated vehicle.

NOAA's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the city of Santa Cruz, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation collaborated in a public-private partnership to design, construct, and furnish the Sanctuary Exploration Center. NOAA and the City of Santa Cruz specified the project to be a model for sustainable, environmentally sensitive design, construction, and operation. The Center implemented multiple strategies during the construction process using U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria. The Center was built with the highest of green standards and is currently pursuing certification for a Gold rating.


The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along the central California coast and encompasses 6,094 square miles of ocean area. Renowned for its scenic beauty and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary protects one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Designated in 1992, the sanctuary is also celebrating 20 years of successful ocean protection.