REEF Provides Hands-on Marine Life Education to All Ages

Photo by George Foulsham | Digital Asset Library

Hannah Maerowitz
Science & Tech Editor

Situated adjacent to Campus Point, the REEF (Research Experience and Education Facility) is an interactive aquarium that educates everyone from elementary school students to parents about marine life and ecosystems.

The scope of the REEF is wide, with an average of 10,000 K-12 students in the Santa Barbara area visiting each year since the REEF opened 15 years ago.

We are seeing former K-12 students attend UCSB and begin to work at the REEF,” said Scott Simon, who developed the REEF in his role as the Marine Science Institute’s outreach coordinator.

Simon continued, “Many of the undergrads that work at the REEF have gone on to work at Monterey Aquarium or L.A. Science Center or find their passion in teaching science and have become science teachers. Others have gone to grad school in the areas of research they’ve learned and communicated about.”

The REEF doesn’t just impact the lives of the interns and scientists who are involved with it — it also gives K-12 students who may have never been exposed to hands-on science education a chance to interact with a facility and educational program that is designed by some of the top scientists in the marine science field.

Specialties of these REEF-affiliated research scientists range from population and community dynamics of marine fishes to bio-inspired self-healing and self-assembly mechanisms.

The REEF’s educational programs are designed to be grade-specific and aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.

According to Simon, when it comes to the REEF’s K-12 education, the programs engage students “through a series of hands-on, place-based, culturally relevant activities and lessons.”

In addition to engaging K-12 students, the REEF also offers opportunities to UCSB students in a variety of forms. Staff at the REEF collaborate with faculty to deliver lab content for courses including Biology of Fishes and Introduction to Oceanography. There are also opportunities for UCSB students to get paid to work and share their love of the ocean with K-12 students, other undergraduates, and the general public.

The REEF is also open to the general public on Friday afternoons and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which allows the undergraduate interns and staff who work there to engage people who visit from the Santa Barbara area and beyond.

Teachers and students love the enthusiasm and content that the interns deliver,” said Simon. “Because the staff facilitate conversations with the general public and due to the ‘boutique’ nature of the REEF, I have heard people say that it’s even better than the Monterey Aquarium.”

The REEF is distinctive in that it connects visitors to aquatic research going on at UCSB and to organisms that live in the same ocean they swim in, including moray eels and limpets.

It provides access to free educational experiences that couldn’t otherwise be accessed by visitors and embodies many of the most important elements of excellent science education, including having passionate experts teach complex concepts at an age appropriate level and using hands-on activities to engage visitors.

The REEF and its philosophy of educating and engaging people of all ages and backgrounds in marine science makes it a valuable and popular fixture of the campus community.