Staff Report

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has partnered with Science North to offer a unique nature-education program called Nature Exchange.

Nature Exchange will allow guests of all ages to bring in natural objects from their personal collections or found in nature. Guests then share knowledge about their objects and trade them for points. Points can be spent or saved and ultimately traded in for special objects found in the Nature Exchange trading case in the museum’s Curiosity Lab.

Guests will bring their natural object to a museum naturalist in the Curiosity Lab and fill out a tag indicating where the object was found, when it was collected, and by whom. The guests will then share what they know about the specimen itself or conduct further research to earn more points by using resources in the Curiosity Lab or the museum library.

After a brief discussion, and if the natural item meets all ethical criteria, the naturalist will assign a point value for the session. Guests can either use their points immediately (for example, trading for a low-point natural item such as a tree ring cookie) or save their points for items of higher value.

Guests can trade natural objects such as rocks, shells, pine cones and fossils. Points are also awarded for leaving items in nature and bringing in pictures with information.

There are some limits on the types of objects accepted. Current wildlife regulations prohibit people from possessing bird bones, feathers, nests, or eggs as well as marine mammal bones. Living animals, plants, and cultural artifacts are also not accepted. No items are allowed from state parks or from federal lands, such as national parks, national forests or Bureau of Land Management property.

Nature Exchange helps demonstrate that knowledge has value. In most cases, what “traders” can share about their objects earns more points than the object itself. Over time, traders are driven to learn as they aspire to take home high-value, ethically collected items. In the process, they learn to become ethical stewards of the natural world.

Nature Exchange operates during the Curiosity Lab’s regular hours and is included with museum admission. For more information, visit