Office of National Marine Sanctuaries


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Take a Break! with National Marine Sanctuaries

By Liz Liang

April is National Volunteer Month! Learn how you can support your national marine sanctuaries.

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "Spring Break"? Beaches? Sunshine? Wild parties? What about painstaking conservation of century-old shipwreck artifacts?

OK, maybe not that last one — except that’s exactly the kind of activity a growing number of students across the nation are signing up for through a variety of “alternative spring break” programs offered by our national marine sanctuaries!

A Different Kind of Break

Take, for instance, the group of Central Michigan University students who traveled to Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan, for a weekend of volunteer service earlier this month. Instead of the usual festivities, these 12 graduate and undergraduate students embraced a new experience, helping curate more than 30 artifacts from the sanctuary’s numerous historical shipwrecks.

Girl analysing artifactsPhoto: NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The group also conducted research, wrote articles about these pieces of our maritime history, and built underwater robots used in shipwreck science, donating a total of nearly 160 hours of valuable support to the sanctuary’s mission of preserving our nation’s maritime heritage.

Sun, Sand and Service

Doing something meaningful with your spring break doesn’t necessarily mean steering clear of the beach. Down in the Florida Keys, the University of Florida’s Alpha Zeta fraternity helped clean up more than 1,400 pounds of trash from the sunny shoreline of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary — and got a tan while doing it!

Girl cleaning upPhoto: NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the Georgia coast also hosts alternative break programs, like the one in March 2013 that enlisted 13 students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to build props for the sanctuary’s annual robotics competition. After a day of hammering, drilling, sawing and assembling PVC pipes, the students provided an assortment of replica scientific instruments for participants in the MATE ROV Competition to retrieve from the bottom of a pool using their remote-controlled robots.

Girl analysing artifacts


Check out the links below if you’re interested in finding out how your school can participate in one of these fantastic alternative spring break programs!

Thunder Bay:

Florida Keys:

Gray’s Reef:

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