Top 10 Volunteer Accomplishments of 2012
Sanctuary Volunteers Gain National Recognition
For the second year in a row a national marine sanctuary volunteer program was honored with the Take Pride in America Federal Volunteer Program Award. In 2012, the honors went to the Sanctuary Ocean Count, a humpback whale monitoring project in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary aimed at increasing public awareness of the sanctuary and current ocean issues, including threats to humpback whales while also promoting responsible viewing of all marine wildlife. The project was initiated as a means to provide Hawai'i residents and visitors with the opportunity to observe the whales in their breeding grounds by conducting a yearly shore-based census during the peak-breeding season. Although the census does not claim to provide scientifically accurate results, it serves as a tool to supplement scientific information gathered from other research activities.
Educating Students and the Public in Visitor Centers and the Classroom
Educational docents and other volunteers have spent more than 25,000 hours in 2012 educating students and the public about national marine sanctuaries. They promote conservation and public awareness by leading tours, answering questions and explaining exhibits at our visitor centers which can be found throughout the sanctuary system. Volunteers have also contributed to classroom curriculums, which include lesson plans and hands-on activities about a variety of subjects including shipwreck mapping, marine biology of the sanctuaries, and sanctuary management. The volunteers also engage in research partnerships with academic institutions like Alpena Community College whose German students are spending one class per week translating historical items from the 1966 shipwreck Nordmeer.
|Students working on hands-on activities with a sanctuary volunteer. (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)|
Educating the Public at Outreach Events
Our volunteers attend many community outreach events including festivals, open houses and museum events to exhibit, host tables and educate the public about our sanctuaries. It is estimated that our volunteers have reached more than 300,000 people in one year at outreach events. One notable team of outreach volunteers in 2012 was the Street Team from Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. They travel to public festivals like Earth Day, staff events like the Boat and Outdoor Show, and support the sanctuary's own celebrations of the sea at the annual Gray's Reef Ocean Film Festival in an effort to engage audiences and make the sanctuary more visible.
Citizen Science Programs Collect Vessel, Marine Life Data in Sanctuaries
Volunteers are working diligently in numerous citizen-science programs to gather valuable data about seabird and whale populations within the sanctuaries. In Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, volunteers working in the Coastal Observation And Seabird Survey Team (COASST) program are identifying the carcasses of marine birds found on beaches along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. COASST data has created a baseline for beached bird mortality. Armed with this information, scientists can detect unusual events such as increased mortality due to low food availability, weather or oil spills. In Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary trained volunteers map the path of whale cruises with a GPS unit (with the captains' consent) and make observations regarding the behaviors and sightings of marine mammals and other vessels encountered while on the cruise. In addition, they report violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, entanglements and other issues. This GPS data has been used for ecosystem services and acoustic modeling of the sanctuary. Also in Stellwagen Bank, volunteers in collaboration with Mass Audubon are studying seabirds within sanctuary boundaries in an effort to create baselines and compare populations over time; to connect residents with their sanctuary; and to train a group of observers to join scientists in this groundbreaking project.
|A humpback whale is spotted in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)|
Monitoring the California Coast and Watershed
Two volunteer programs have been working on monitoring the health of the California coast along Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries and within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary watershed. Beach Watch citizen scientists volunteer to survey 110 kilometers of sanctuary shoreline. They collect data that is later incorporated into sanctuary management decision-making. The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network monitors the quality of the water entering the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary watershed. The network coordinates two annual regional monitoring events, First Flush and Snapshot Day, aimed at gathering data to be used in assessing the health of water flowing into the sanctuary.
|Members of COASST studying a bird carcass in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)|
Teaching Residents and Visitors about the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and National Park
Channel Islands Naturalist Corps (CINC) are a group of specially trained volunteer ocean stewards dedicated to educating passengers on board vessels visiting the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park . Donating about 35,000 hours, members provide education about the unique marine life found in the sanctuary and park waters to thousands of local residents, tourists, and school children annually. Naturalist Corps volunteers also participate in numerous local outreach events and collect valuable research on marine mammals and other important sanctuary and park resources.
Caring for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Team OCEAN volunteers are stationed on sanctuary vessels at heavily visited reef sites throughout the Keys during peak recreational boating seasons and high-traffic holiday weekends. Volunteers inform the public about the sanctuary and its special zones, encourage proper use of sanctuary resources, and provide tips on how to practice basic boating safety. Team OCEAN volunteers also participate in beach clean-ups, removing up to 10,000 pounds of marine debris yearly.
|A University of Florida student on an alternative spring break in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary pulls marine debris out of the water. (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)|
Conducting Scientific Diving and Phytoplankton Monitoring at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Volunteer divers work with Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary's scientific dive operations to conduct fish counts, marine debris removal, and assist with sanctuary dive operations during the field season and on research cruises. Gray's Reef volunteers also conduct trawls of estuarine and coastal waters to observe present species of phytoplankton. Looking at patterns in abundance of common species along with weather and environmental factors can give fisheries managers a heads-up concerning harmful algal blooms (HABs) resulting in red tides and fish kills.
S.S. City of Alpena Log Book and Thunder Bay Island Life Saving Station Wreck Report Transcription Projects
In summer 2011, a donor loaned a log book from the side wheel steam ship S.S. City of Alpena to Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The log covers more than three seasons of transporting cargo and passengers through Thunder Bay. A review of the log revealed that all of the text other than the commercially printed pages in the book is beautifully handwritten but very hard to read. That led to the development of the sanctuary's transcription team, which enlisted 30 volunteers to work on transcribing the ship's log over seven months. The transcription of the log book was completed in summer 2012. The team's new challenge is transcribing wreck reports from Thunder Bay Island Life-Saving Station and Middle Island Life-Saving Station in Lake Huron. Each of the hundreds of reports documents a ship's accident during the time frame of 1885-1916. These projects have provided an opportunity to add to the archival record of a number of lost ships.
Interpreting Science and Resource Management for the Public
In a pilot collaboration between Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Galveston laboratory, volunteers were jointly recruited and trained to give regularly scheduled presentations and tours of the NOAA Fisheries turtle research facility. The volunteers reached more than 800 individuals at a time during the hour-long sessions. Presentations used marine turtles to highlight general conservation issues and talk about the science and management tools used by national marine sanctuaries and NOAA Fisheries to protect turtles and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The pilot was deemed successful and will be expanded in 2013.
|A sanctuary volunteer working with a young student in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.(NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries)|