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Scottish Ocean Explorer Centre development


Executive summary
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On 22 August 2013 the Scottish Association for Marine Science - Scotland’s premier independent marine science organisation opened a marine science exhibition and outreach centre, the Ocean Explorer Centre, at its Scottish Marine Institute near Oban.

The facility consists of a permanent interactive and high-tech exhibition linked to ongoing marine science research projects, a small cinema screening short documentaries relating to SAMS, the marine environment or marine research. It also incorporates a cafe and shop and runs regular events.

This facility is unique in Scotland:

  1. It translates scientific knowledge about the physics, geology, chemistry, biology and resources of the sea into inspirational, accessible and interactive displays 
  1. It aims to empower and encourage visitors to engage in dialogue about how society should use and manage the marine environment
  2. It promotes scientifically credible initiatives aimed at a healthy, diverse and sustainable marine environment
  3. It strives to inspire the next generation about science
  4. It provides an in-door visitor attraction in support of further developing local tourism





The opening of the Ocean Explorer Centre is the BEGINNING of much greater public engagement. We are having plans to expand into the outdoors with future displays (eg marine birds, marine litter and coastal change displays; young ocean explorer playpark; geology garden; technology and art garden, marine archaeology walk etc) and are currently applying for funding to develop our public science porfolio. We are also constantly developing our school workshops and events schedule...



Project rationale

Over 70% of the surface of our blue planet is covered by ocean. 99% of our biosphere is in the marine environment, and life is believed to have arisen in the sea. While the importance of the marine environment to life on Earth thus cannot be overstated, the general public is largely unaware of its many life-sustaining roles and the range of marine resources used in our economy. The oceans hardly feature in our schools, newspapers and parliaments and most people associate the sea predominantly with holidays. In times when the marine environment is increasingly degraded through human activities, this misconception must be challenged. The Scottish Ocean Explorer Centre aims to play a part in building a more realistic awareness of and enthusiasm for the marine environment.

The environment, climate, economy and heritage of the west coast of Scotland are greatly influenced by the sea, and a significant part of tourism is associated with boating, diving, seafood, fishing and marine wildlife spotting. Locals and visitors are thus particularly entitled to and in need of accessible information about what lies below the surfaces of lochs and seas as well as in the deep ocean off Scotland’s western edge. Raising awareness about the local marine environment is a key step in engaging users to protect their marine environment and to stop cause unintentional harm. It is also a prerequisite for users to engage in marine spatial planning.

Schools in the area have little access to exciting science and environment displays and expertise, and few pupils from the region go on to studying science at university. SAMS is already a strong supporter of the STEM agenda that promotes careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – having been short-listed for the award of STEM employer of the year 2010 – and the development of the Ocean Explorer Centre will greatly enhance the image of and access to science in schools in the dispersed and structurally underdeveloped region of Argyll and the islands.

A lack of indoor visitor attractions around Oban has been identified as a key reason for stagnant visitor numbers and a short stay period in the area.  The OEC may thus also make a positive contribution to tourism and thus the economic development of the region. Tourism visitors will contribute to making the OEC economically sustainable so it can deliver its educational mission throughout the year.


Vision & mission


The Ocean Explorer Centre works towards a world in which everyone appreciates and understands the importance of the marine environment for life on Earth and where all seas and oceans are healthy and sustainably managed. The OEC is a welcoming, accessible and inspirational facility where individuals can engage with marine scientific research and consider issues of ocean governance and management.



The Ocean Explorer Centre empowers audiences to contribute positively to a healthy and sustainably managed marine environment through greater awareness and understanding of the marine system and the challenges it faces. The OEC strives to provide an outstanding visitor experience through inspirational, atmospheric and relevant ‘edutainment’ and stimulating events at affordable prices. 



  1. Sharing of observations, knowledge and issues of concern between researchers and lay people in a spirit of mutual respect
  2. Employing diverse pedagogic approaches that are sensitive to the needs of different visitors
  3. Encouraging creativity and exploration
  4. Fostering a responsible relationship with the marine environment
  5. Promoting rigorous research and cutting edge science
  6. Responsible to our communities


Products and services

The OEC consists initially of four components:

  • An interactive and current display area about the marine environment
  • A cinema space for SAMS produced and other short films
  • A Cafe Scientifique and shop area also used for events and discussions
  • Access to laboratories in the Sheina Marshall Building for delivering workshops

The exhibition area will follow three guiding principles:

  1. Storyline-led technology
  2. Atmosphere to inspire fascination and exploration
  3. Based on rigorous science with real-time data access


Workshops and activities will be based on face-to-face engagement, which remains the most effective teaching approach. Several coastal activities will be developed for outdoor learning. Workshops will be held in SAMS laboratories, the cinema space, the Cafe Scientifique, on the beach or in schools/at events. A negotiable charge will be levied for most workshops.

Other events such as Café Scientifique sessions or evening classes will also be developed. These will be delivered by SAMS staff and students, who will be trained to improve their communication skills with the general public.

The OEC will expand into the garden in coming years showcasing marine technologies, artworks and interactive displays and play areas.



  • Goal 1: To translate latest advances in marine science into accessible and exciting events, activities and displays
  • Goal 2: To be a popular and financially self-sustaining component of SAMS delivering the majority of the organisation’s public engagement responsibilities
  • Goal 3: To be the home and a vehicle of growth for the Association’s membership
  • Goal 4: To enthuse the next generation to consider careers in science in general and marine science or the wider marine sector in particular


Benefits from the project

Many individuals and organisations stand to benefit from the Scottish Ocean Explorer Centre, with the main beneficiaries being:

  • the general public (both local and visitors): empowered by knowledge
  • the marine environment: better protected through greater awareness and more informed management
  • schools (regional and throughout Scotland): inspired by relevant, exciting science
  • the science/marine science community: more valued through increased accountability
  • the local tourism industry: supported by a new visitor attraction and regular programme of events
  • SAMS and the new University of the Highlands and Islands: increased brand recognition affects status and recruitment




To our funders, we say thank you:

Your financial support has helped create the Ocean Explorer Centre where marine scientists can share their enthusiasm, observations and concerns regarding our global ocean with the many curious minds that visit this facility.
For the development of the Exhibition

  • The Robertson Trust
  • University of the Highlands and Islands Development Trust
  • Sheina Marshall Bequest
  • Sir Hugh and Lady Stevenson
  • The Steel Charitable Trust
  • Oban Common Good Fund
  • The Hugh Fraser Foundation
  • The Fishmongers’ Company
  • Gordon Fraser Charitable Trust
  • The Susan H Guy Charitable Trust

For the building

  • The Millennium Commission
  • The European Regional Development Fund
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • The Scottish Funding Council


Membership secretary

Rachel Culver
T: +44 (0) 1631 559 215
F: +44 (0) 1631 559 001
Scottish Marine Institute
Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK

Contact us
Scottish Marine Institute
Oban, Argyll, PA37 1QA
T: 01631 559000
F: 01631 559001