Announcing the 2022 Sea to Shining Sea Award

By Kate McManus and Tracy Hajduk

December 2022

For nine 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 success in advancing ocean and climate literacy and conservation through national marine sanctuaries. It also recognizes innovation and creative solutions to raising public awareness and appreciation of the National Marine Sanctuary System.

This year, the award is presented to Justin Umholtz, Coral Check-Up Lesson Series and Climate Change Resilience Workshop.

Justin Umholtz
Justin Umholtz aboard the exploration vessel Nautilus to support education programs during an expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo: Justin Umholtz

Coral reefs are a crucial part of many of our marine ecosystems, and they have been threatened by the effects of climate change. In response, Umholtz created the Coral Check-Up Lesson Series: a comprehensive teacher and student guide focused on the impact of climate change on coral reefs, especially those in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Totalling nearly 200 pages, this multipart curriculum introduces students to real-world coral reef exploration and marine ecology through virtual experiences focused in the Hawaiian archipelago. However, the lessons are adaptable and can be used and applied to other coral systems nationwide.

Within Hawai‘i schools, the series has been used to improve students’ knowledge about the vast coral systems in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, in addition to general information about the National Marine Sanctuary System. As the only mixed Cultural and Natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in the U.S., Umholtz also connects participants to resources describing the deep cultural significance and ancestral knowledge of these islands and atolls. The first of the lessons in the series was released in the fall of 2021, and the lesson webpage has been viewed nearly 1,000 times and downloaded by students and teachers 336 times since then.

a scuba diver underwater next to a moray eel
Chief Scientist Dr. Randy Kosaki invites students to “dive in” to the Coral Check up Lesson Series. Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA

In addition to the Coral Check-Up Lesson Series, Justin Umholtz was one of the lead coordinators for a three-day, multi-agency and multi-partner teacher workshop called E Kū Ana Ka Paia: Workshop for Building Climate Change Resilience. It successfully brought together 60 middle and high school teachers from the Hawaiian Islands to learn about climate change’s impact on corals, and his Coral Check-Up Lesson Series was integrated into this workshop.

Umholtz has also presented to students nationwide on topics ranging from marine debris and coral to the traditional Hawaiian practice of kilo, which includes watching or observing our environment. He has collaborated with others to deliver engaging lessons on marine conservation and national marine sanctuaries to hundreds of American students, and his lesson series was well-received. One teacher noted that despite having “no background in oceanography whatsoever,” they have been able to use the lesson series to effectively teach oceanography classes.

people wading in shallow water with buckets
The climate change teacher workshop Hawaiʻi Island cohort lends a hand at Kumuola Marine Science Education Center as part of their field experience examining the impacts and resilience measures at a loko i'a (fish pond). Photo: Melissa Keenan/Justin Umholtz/NOAA
people kneeling and setting up an experimental design that involves wooden posts and string
Hawaiʻi Island participants learn a sea level rise shoreline impact exercise. Photo: Justin Umholtz/NOAA

Congratulations to Justin Umholtz for his excellence and dedication in enhancing ocean and climate literacy in national marine sanctuaries, and increasing public understanding of the National Marine Sanctuary System and the resources protected within.

Kate McManus is an intern with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

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