The 12,000-square foot National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center will provide visitors to Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay with insights into the ecology of the area and ways to protect this natural resource.
"It's really looking at their role as a citizen in the watershed, their role as a user of the ocean, and how they can become a steward," said Dawn Hayes, the center's educational director.
The $15 million center is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the city of Santa Cruz, and private donors. The center will be filled with exhibits that showcase the area's marine life.
"We have a small theater, we have a very large biodiversity gallery that highlights the tidepools, kelp forests," said Hayes.
The $2 million parcel in which the center will eventually stand was donated by the city.
Monday's event was a ceremonial groundbreaking for the center. Actual construction won't begin until September. The visitor's center will eventually open in 2012.
The center hopes to attract and educate a large portion of the visitors to Monterey Bay.
"Throughout the year, of the three to four million visitors that are coming here, about 150,000 will visit this, but I think that's a conservative estimate," said Lisa Uttal, the center's project manager.