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I love this photo. 

But… why? What’s so special here? It’s the kind of photo you’ve seen a thousand times. And the colors are all off.

In it are the Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, a State Assemblyman, a nonprofit executive director, a Santa Cruz mayor, UCSC faculty, fundraisers, grad students, and philanthropists. My young son, Damien, is running around in there somewhere, trying to convince someone–anyone–to stop gabbing and to see the fishies with him.

To me, this photo illustrates the connective function Seymour Center plays in educating people about the role scientific research plays in understanding and conserving the world’s oceans.

Connecting people, ideas, and action

We are a convenor and a connector of people, ideas, and action. We are a community gathering place, an educational catalyst, and an action hub for coastal and marine conservation. We connect scientists to the boots-on-the-ground conservation actors. We connect children to the ideas and skills that may shape their futures. We connect the people who live, work, and play in Santa Cruz to the actions they can take to participate in marine and coastal conservation. All of this in a warm, welcoming, vibrant gathering place with an unbeatable view of Monterey Bay. 

Since October 2021, we’ve leaned into our role as a connector by introducing a variety of new Seymour Center experiences. For example:

  • A new exhibit, Water’s Extreme Journey
    We brought together UCSC scientists studying water and water-leaders from public agencies and nonprofits to help develop content for our new exhibit, Water’s Extreme Journey. This interactive, family-friendly maze is all about local watersheds, land-to-sea connections, and local questions of fresh water in our community.
  • Our first original documentary, Southern Range
    We worked with the UCSC Fisheries Collaborative Program, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, public agencies and nonprofits to produce Southern Range: Salmon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The film tells the story of local salmon conservation in the Santa Cruz mountains in the wake of the 2020 CZU fires. The film has earned two film festival selections.
  • Salmon Week
    In concert with the premier of our film, we put on the first-ever Salmon Week that featured UCSC scientists studying fish and local nonprofits working to protect them.
  • Blue Innovation Festival
    1,000+ of you attended Blue Innovation, a vibrant community festival showcasing 40+ scientists, businesses, and nonprofits using cutting-edge technology to study and protect the ocean. In the days following the festival, City leaders met at Seymour Center with delegates from France to share lessons that may help one another prepare for life in a changing coastal climate.

To bring you these experiences and many others, we collaborated, co-created, and otherwise partnered with over 200 individuals from 60 organizations and dozens of UCSC research labs from diverse scientific disciplines. Just to name a few:

  • Amah Mutsun Land Trust
  • NOAA
  • Black Surf Santa Cruz
  • O’Neill Sea Odyssey
  • California Trout
  • OceansMicro
  • City of Santa Cruz
  • Regeneración Pajaro Valley
  • City of Watsonville
  • Resource Conservation District
  • Coastal Watershed Council
  • Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
  • County of Santa Cruz
  • Santa Cruz Office of Education
  • Cruz Foam
  • Save Our Shores
  • Ecology Action
  • Save the Waves
  • Fisheries Collaborative Program
  • Soquel Creek Water District
  • Frans Lanting/Bay of Life
  • Watsonville Wetlands Watch
  • Land Trust Santa Cruz County
  • Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

One year since reopening

All the while, over the past year, we resurrected some of the beloved marine science programs you’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. Students returned to Seymour Center for the Discovery Lab field trips. Budding young scientists attended Ocean Explorers summer camp. Visitors to Seymour Center can once again go on tours of Younger Lagoon Reserve and behind-the-scenes of the marine mammal lab.

Returning old programs and new programs, historical collaborations and new ones, are fueled by hundreds of selfless, generous people in our community who freely give their time to the cause. Thank you, volunteers! 

In a measurable sense, our first year reopened was a smashing success. With your support:

  • We welcomed 50,000 people back to Seymour Center
  • 2,000 kids experienced hands-on marine science education
  • 750+ families became Seymour Center members
  • We ended the fiscal year with a six-figure surplus

Plans for our new vision

When we lean into the role of convenor and connector, magic happens. So, we’re leaning deeper.

In May, we partnered with an award-winning museum design firm, Gyroscope Inc., to envision an updated visitor experience at the Seymour Center with our new vision in mind. How can we design an inspiring space that informs you about the freshest marine & coastal science and equips you with meaningful action you can take to get involved locally and regionally?

I’m thrilled to share the executive summary of the visitor experience plan with you here: Seymour Center Visitor Experience Plan – Executive Summary

Meanwhile, the State of California recently awarded UC Santa Cruz with $20 million to invest in coastal climate resilience research. With a demonstrable history of excellence, a screaming-hot first year since reopening, and a shovel-ready visitor experience plan, we are prepared to be an impact accelerator for–and public expression of–UCSC’s cutting-edge coastal climate resilience science. We are in discussions with UCSC leadership about what that will look like. 

We’re not going to sit by idly while we develop and design and fundraise for our ambitious plans. We continue to connect people, ideas, and actions as we have for the past year. For example:

  • Connecting people
    We’re piloting a program called Venue Grants. There is an abundance of incredible environmental work happening in the community, but there is a shortage of space to host events at an affordable price. For that reason, we offered free use of our space for four local environmental organizations to host a community event. Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Save the Waves, Bike Santa Cruz County, and the UCSC People of Sustainability Collective were chosen as partners for this pilot program. Their events will happen at Seymour Center during the first half of 2023. 
  • Connecting ideas
    When Water’s Extreme Journey comes down in January, in its place we’ll be installing a series of experiences that introduce you to the science behind tracking animals and their movement in the wild. You’ll find a rotating set of activities, scientist features, and opportunities for you to get involved in our community to make a difference. More science, more hands-on, and more action.
  • Connecting action
    In collaboration with UCSC’s Coastal Science & Policy program, the City of Santa Cruz, and the US Geologic Survey, we will install CoastSnap, a crowd-sourced science project to monitor sea level rise and coastal erosion off the cliffs of Seymour Center and along west cliff drive. You and every visitor will be able to snap a photo of the cliff and submit it to a crowd-sourced set of images that will help our community prepare for the impacts of climate change.

If this all sounds exciting to you, we can find a place for you to contribute your time, your resources, and your creativity. If this doesn’t sound exciting to you, I’d love to hear why. Either way, you’re always free to give me a call or text at 858-228-7187 or email me at jahicken@ucsc.edu

Onward!

Jonathan