Announcing the 2018 Sea to Shining Sea Award winner

By Tracy Hajduk

December 2018

For six years, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has recognized outstanding achievement in the fields of interpretation and environmental education by presenting the Sea to Shining Sea Award for Excellence in Interpretation and Education. The award recognizes demonstrated successes in advancing ocean and climate literacy and conservation through national marine sanctuaries. It also recognizes awardees’ innovation and creative solutions for successfully enhancing the public's awareness and appreciation of the National Marine Sanctuary System.

This year, the award is presented to Anne Smrcina for Exploring sanctuary biodiversity through a marine art contest: a STEM to STEAM initiative.

anne smrcina and tracy hajduk
Anne Smircina (right) received the award from the author (left) at the National Association for Interpretation conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo courtesy of Tracy Hajduk/NOAA

The Marine Art Contest has long been a staple for Massachusetts students as a way to engage them with the amazing biodiversity found with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts. Now an annual tradition for many schools, the contest is going on its 18th year of inspiring and challenging students to share their renditions of the rich life found within the sanctuary’s waters.

The Sea to Shining Sea Award was presented in November 2018 at the National Association for Interpretation conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the federal awards ceremony. Smrcina, the education and outreach coordinator for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, will soon celebrate 25 years with the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, so this award honors a true veteran of America’s national marine sanctuaries.

Smrcina has spent her career helping children and adults get to know the ecosystem of the Gulf of Maine, where whales feed on tiny fish and migrating birds feast before their long journeys. About twenty years ago, Smrcina and members of the Massachusetts Marine Educators realized that local students knew more about organisms in coral reefs and rainforests than in their own backyard. The Marine Art Contest aims to remedy that, giving Massachusetts students – and students all over the world – the opportunity to get to know the diversity of marine life off the coast of New England. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary also hosts teacher workshops to demonstrate ways to incorporate the art contest and information about the Gulf of Maine into curriculum.

painting of humpback whale mother and calf
Davidson Academy (Reno, Nevada) ninth-grader Aayan Patel painted this humpback whale mother and calf. This piece placed third in the 2018 High School division. Image: Aayan Patel

Co-sponsored by Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Massachusetts Marine Educators, the contest has grown each year. In the past few years, the contest has been averaging about 800 submissions a year with a high total of 915. It is no longer limited to students within Massachusetts; students from a dozen other states and even foreign countries such as China, France, England, Serbia, and Kazakhstan have submitted art in recent years.

The contest helps students engage with science in nontraditional ways like drawing and painting. In addition to dividing entries by age, the contest also includes categories for computer graphics and scientific illustration, giving students the opportunity to work with multiple media. Students have even used their art to build portfolios that will help them enter college for both science and the arts.

drawing of krill and comb jelly
This drawing of a krill and Beroe’s comb jelly placed first in the High School division of the 2018 Marine Art Contest. Image: Linda Palominos

Once winners in each of the categories are identified, the art begins a tour of partner institutions. Artwork spends time on display at the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center, the Salem National Historic Site Visitor Center, JFK Federal Building, and New Bedford Whaling Museum, to name a few.

This project has been an exceptional way to engage a vast array of students and use their art to inspire others and start a conversation. Smrcina’s innovation, ability to leverage partnerships, and dedication has created a program we can all be proud of and enhances the public’s awareness and appreciation of our national marine sanctuaries.

The contest is about to enter its third decade, and shows no signs of slowing down. “It’s a labor of love,” says Smrcina, and nothing is more exciting than “when the art starts rolling in through the mail.”

Congratulations to Anne Smrcina for her excellence and dedication in enhancing ocean and climate literacy in national marine sanctuaries and enhancing public understanding of the National Marine Sanctuary System and the resources it protects through the marine art contest.

anne smrcina
Anne Smrcina stands in front of copies of just a few of the hundreds of art submissions she receives each year for the art contest. Photo: NOAA

Tracy Hajduk is the national education coordinator at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.