Promoting conservation and stewardship to diverse audiences through the National Marine Sanctuary System

By Claire Fackler

April 2018

Protecting treasured places in the ocean and Great Lakes like national marine sanctuaries takes a whole network of people working together. When all communities, including underserved and diverse communities, can learn about and access the natural, cultural, historic, and recreational value of national marine sanctuaries, we can help these places thrive together. Ensuring that youth of all backgrounds have the opportunity to experience these special ocean places supports future conservation efforts and careers.

With that in mind, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has enhanced our education and outreach efforts to reach underserved and diverse audiences. In this way, sanctuaries improve ocean and coastal stewardship, and increase access to advanced programming incorporating science and technology.

three students work on an educational activity
Students from an underserved community in Boston participate in Whale Ambassador activities to bring the ocean into their classroom. Photo: Anne Smrcina/NOAA

While there are numerous university- and college-based initiatives aimed to provide students with research experiences, federal agencies are in a unique position to provide experiential learning opportunities, whether through marine debris studies on national marine sanctuary beaches or whale-watching expeditions to learn about ocean ecology. These learning opportunities not only aim to encourage individuals and communities to be actively involved in stewardship behaviors and decisions that conserve, restore, and protect our underwater parks, but can also prepare a diverse range of students for the workforce. Through opportunities such as Ocean Guardian Schools, diversity and inclusion programs, marine technology workshops, and the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, national marine sanctuary staff have reached underserved audiences and continue to support the next generation of ocean users and stewards.

four children holding monitoring equipment and wearing ocean guardian tshirts stand on a beach
Elementary school students participating as Ocean Guardian Ambassadors get wet during a LiMPETS sandy beach monitoring activity. Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Students safeguarding the seas

Students at Ocean Guardian Schools make a commitment to the protection and conservation of their local watersheds, the global ocean, and national marine sanctuaries. By proposing and then implementing a school- or community-based stewardship project, students learn valuable skills while also taking ownership of their community environment.

The Ocean Guardian School Program targets Title I schools that reach low socioeconomic students to ensure they are given opportunities to learn about the ocean, marine science careers, conservation, and ultimately, stewardship. One such school, Adams Elementary School—a Title I school in Santa Barbara, California—has been conducting an Ocean Guardian Ambassadors program for their third year as an Ocean Guardian School. This group of third through sixth grade students partake in hands-on activities to broaden their appreciation for the ocean. They have conducted stewardship activities such as beach cleanups, and also have worked with local non-profit organizations to promote a plastic straw reduction campaign in Santa Barbara.

two young students monitor sand crabs
Title I elementary school students practice the scientific protocols for monitoring sand crabs as part of a hands-on experience to gain appreciation for the ocean. Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Working together to create opportunities

In the last several years, we have sought to reach underrepresented audiences through our new diversity and inclusion programs. These programs help national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments increase participation of youth and adults from all backgrounds in education programs that promote conservation and stewardship.

In Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a new innovative program uses the topic of whales to attract students’ attention, and then builds on that attraction to continue their interest in related science and marine topics. During this three-week-long program, Stellwagen Bank education staff worked with a Title I school in Boston, Massachusetts, that included a visit by the sanctuary’s life-size inflatable whale, a field trip to the New England Aquarium, and a whale watch in the sanctuary. The project also collaborated with the Hispanic Access Foundation and worked with the Dominican Republic community to raise awareness about the ocean, marine life, conservation, and possible NOAA careers.

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary staff focused on Title I schools in the San Francisco Bay area. These schools included a wide variety of ethnic demographics, and underrepresented students. Through the “At Your School” programs that range by age, staff have brought hands-on ocean science experiences to these schools. Kindergarten through third grade students participated in the “Crab Cab,” which covered crabs, crab diversity, and good seashore manners. “Sharkmobile,” for grades four through six, focused on the biology and natural history of sharks. “Ocean Acidification,” for grades seven through 12, introduced students to the process behind the changing chemistry and biology of the ocean.

students lean over the edge of a pier to launch rovs
Students participate in the development of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) through the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary’s education program. Photo: NOAA

Technology competitions engage students

For over 15 years, Thunder Bay and Gray’s Reef national marine sanctuaries have been promoting technology to students including dedicated outreach to students at Title I schools. Through remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, students practiced their science and math skills while getting acquainted with sanctuaries. Gray’s Reef, Olympic Coast, and Thunder Bay national marine sanctuaries partnered with the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center to host several student ROV competitions. In 2017, Olympic Coast hosted their first ROV competition and held an educator workshop prior to introducing them to aspects of the competition. In addition, Olympic Coast staff worked with tribal educators from Washington state to showcase techniques that combined indigenous learning systems and Western science in order to improve science education for students.

Scholars of the future

The Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program recognizes outstanding scholarship and encourages independent graduate level research in NOAA-related sciences—particularly by female and minority students. Of the former scholars evaluated, 90 percent are women and 13 percent are minorities.

The scholarship provides funding for graduate studies; in addition, program participants are trained in best practices for science communication. One scholar shared: “For me, the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program provides not only funding for my Masters program, but also a community of other dedicated and passionate scientists. Coming from a low-income family, I wouldn't be able to finance an advanced degree on my own.”

three people monitor water quality
Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars work with a high school student on Moloka`i to conduct water quality testing in a Hawaiian fish pond. Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Making an impact

infographic highlighting the ocean guardian schools program reach for 2016-2017

Through these efforts, we are reaching new audiences and helping support students and communities from all backgrounds. As part of our diversity and inclusion programs, more than 100 different activities targeted underserved audiences. A total of 2,942 K-12 students, teachers, and interested parties have been impacted by classroom- and field-based experiential learning opportunities in our Monterey Bay, Greater Farallones, Channel Islands, and Stellwagen Bank national marine sanctuaries.

This past school year, there were 35 Ocean Guardian Schools—12 from areas with low socioeconomic status—reaching 6,689 students.

Overall in FY17, the National Marine Sanctuary System reached 22,903 underserved youth with conservation and stewardship-based programs. Through these education and outreach programs that target underserved audiences, we teach participants about conservation and stewardship practices and foster skills to address local, regional, national, or global issues. We also ensure youth of all backgrounds are exposed to innovative education and outreach programming to support strong careers and a healthy ocean.

Claire Fackler is the national education liaison and national volunteer coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.