Announcing the 2021 Sea to Shining Sea Award

By Tracy Hajduk

December 2021

For eight years, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has recognized outstanding achievement 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 Chelsea Prindle for Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Distance Learning Programs..

chelsea prindle with her award
The Sea to Shining Sea Award was presented virtually to Chelsea Prindle in November 2021 during the National Association for Interpretation conference during the federal awards ceremony. Photo: Chelsea Prindle/NOAA

As COVID-19 shut down schools and brought the U.S. to a stop, schools and educational providers that support them had to rethink how to bring learning to students at home. Staff at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary were no exception and immediately began working to bring the wonders of the sanctuary and a virtual experience of their visitor center to teachers, students, and the public. This led to the creation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Distance Learning Program, a suite of interactive, student focused and engaging programs where participants would feel transported to the sanctuary’s ecosystems through active learning.

Live distance learning school programs were delivered to 2,836 students from 28 different schools to increase ocean literacy, awareness about our national marine sanctuaries, and their personal role in protecting the environment. Sixty-one percent of these students (1,740) were from Title 1 schools reaching those most often impacted from the pandemic. The programs covered an array of topics relating to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary from kelp forests to bioluminescence, each picked with the intent to strengthen the viewer’s relationship with the National Marine Sanctuary System. Working closely with teachers, the program adapted regularly to ensure the needs of the ever changing classroom in a COVID world were being met. This meant figuring out how to recreate the benefits of an in-person field trip program through a computer screen.

Students demonstrate learning after participating in a distance learning program. Photos: Nick Ingram/NOAA

Through a strong partnership with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI), Prindle worked collaboratively with the TLI team (teacher leaders, school administrators, professional curriculum writers) and more than 10 environmental education partners to create weekly choice boards for K-12 teachers to connect their students with nature while at home. Activities were aligned to specific grade level and Next Generation Science Standard learning outcomes, with subjects such as exploring biodiversity, habitats and environmental changes, ecosystems of the sanctuary, watershed health, and climate action. The lessons focused on taking students offline and outdoors for learning in their own backyard and integrated student-led action projects in their local communities.

In addition to leading school programs, Prindle worked with other Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary staff to address the closure of the visitor center and its impact on visitors and volunteers. This resulted in the creation of 18 public webinars with more than 3,000 attendees. Topics included a history of Monterey Bay commercial fisheries, plankton and bioluminescence, white shark research, and issues facing the sanctuary such as ocean acidification and kelp and urchin barrens. Attendees were more informed about current issues, gained awareness of their personal responsibilities, and learned ways they can help protect the sanctuary in their daily lives.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center continues to offer programming to the public despite being closed for in-person visitors. Photo: NOAA

One webinar attendee commented:
“I am a long-time attendee of the national marine sanctuary webinar series. I continue to be impressed by the high quality presentations and presenters that you all provide. Now that life has moved completely virtual, I tend to favor national marine sanctuary webinars over others due to the high quality standard that you all continually provide. Tonight was especially interesting, pairing a scientist with a photography enthusiast. It was well rounded, explaining the science and camera techniques. There was something for everyone. Well done!”

Congratulations to Chelsea Prindle 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.

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