NOAA, National Marine Sanctuaries Welcomes “Every Kid Outdoors”

By Tracy Hajduk

December 2020

America’s public lands and waters are treasures for all to enjoy, and national marine sanctuaries and national estuarine research reserves provide ideal settings for young people to experience our special ocean places. That is why NOAA supports the Every Kid Outdoors program.

Kids tidepooling
Tidepooling in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: David Ruck/NOAA

“We are proud to be part of the Every Kid Outdoors initiative,” said retired Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “NOAA's national marine sanctuaries and national estuarine research reserves provide fourth and fifth graders and their families the chance to experience the sense of wonder that our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes offer.”

Kid catching a wave
Catching a wave in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Bruce Sudweeks, 2020 Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest winner

The Every Kid Outdoors program allows fourth grade students, and their families, to visit our public lands and waters for free including sites that often have an entrance fee, like many national parks and national wildlife refuges. Now fifth grade students who were not able to take advantage of the Every Kid Outdoors fourth grade pass during the 2019-2020 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to visit parks and federal lands for free through Aug. 31, 2021. In addition, current fourth grade students can still use the pass to have free access to millions of acres of federal lands and waters.

While our national marine sanctuaries visitor centers are closed due to COVID-19, our miles of beaches and waters are open free to the public year round for responsible recreation and exploring while following all local regulations and CDC guidelines. Visit our national marine sanctuary coronavirus page to ensure you are up to date on current information before you head out the door to explore.

Luckily, heading to the coasts or Great Lakes is not the only way youth can visit our sanctuaries right now. This summer, national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments were added as destinations on the ParkPassport mobile app and NOAA released several educational Sanctuaries 360° virtual reality (VR) videos.

The Park Passport provides a way to connect and explore America’s underwater parks from your mobile phone. Users can watch videos, go on a virtual tour, learn about species found in the sanctuary and collect badges.

screenshots from the park passport app
With a free Park Passport account, you can find local, regional, state, and national parks, earn badges for parks visited (virtually and/or in-person) and activities completed, and connect with other outdoor enthusiasts and families across the country. Photos: National Park Trust, 2020

The Sanctuaries 360° virtual reality (VR) videos let users “dive” into these underwater parks from home while still experiencing all they have to offer. Viewers can use VR headsets, phones, tablets, and computer screens, allowing you to visit these treasured underwater places without getting wet.

two kids smiling
Ocean Guardian Kids Club encourages youth to explore their natural surroundings to form a sense of personal connection to the ocean and/or watersheds in which they live. Photo: Kate Thompson/NOAA

“We want our national marine sanctuaries to be fully accessible to all students in the country, no matter where you live,” said John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “Whether in person or virtually, we are excited to welcome fourth and now fifth grade students to explore our sanctuaries, monuments, and reserves and in the process help create a new generation of people who love and appreciate our nation’s amazing lands and waters.”

Like national marine sanctuaries, national estuarine research reserves are still open for outdoor exploration at this time, but have had to press pause on the organized, in-person programs. Most of the reserves have used this unique situation to offer a variety of virtual learning opportunities, including field trips, scavenger hunts, citizen science, and more.

"The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 outdoor classrooms that provide myriad education and recreational opportunities for students to explore and learn about these magnificent ecosystems that our coastal communities depend on,” says Erica Seiden, program manager of the research reserve system at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management. “These programs help inspire the next generation of stewardship of these special places.”

Tracy Hajduk is the National Education Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

NOAA does not charge visitors for entry to sanctuary waters or visitor centers, but engaging in recreational activities led by third party operators could incur charges.