Educators help students get into their sanctuaries

By Gabriella Valderrama

January 2018

Every day, our educators share the treasures of the National Marine Sanctuary System with the public. We work to engage, inspire, and connect people with these special places and spark wonder in visitors young and old. In 2017, we worked with more than 120,000 students and 4,000 educators.

Below are just a few of the highlights from the past year.

drawing of humpback whale and calf
Students submitted artwork to Stellwagen Bank’s annual art contest. This drawing of a humpback whale mother and calf placed second in the high school division of the 2017 contest. Image: Angela Ma, grade 9, Oliver Ames High School, Easton, Massachusetts

Science inspires art

This year several national marine sanctuaries encouraged students to enjoy marine science in a different way ‐ with art! Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary displayed sanctuary photos at the Dominican University of California, giving students and faculty the opportunity to experience the beauty of Cordell Bank. In Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the annual student art contest drew submissions from around the country, which were prominently displayed at several highly visible venues around Massachusetts. In Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, trash has never looked so artistic! A group of alternative spring breakers from the University of Florida turned trash into visual displays to bring awareness to the problem of marine debris. And Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary featured a collective art mural during its annual Ocean Discovery Day, allowing guests to contribute to a mural depicting the sanctuary.

Life-size whales draw in the masses

The best way to learn about a whale is to be engulfed by it! Students near Stellwagen Bank and Olympic Coast national marine sanctuaries got this opportunity when Salt and Big Mama — two life-sized, walk-inside, inflatable humpback whales — came to visit. As students and the public investigated the life history and anatomy of the model humpback whales, they were able to better understand the whales’ role in the marine environment.

students gathered around a presenter
A San Francisco Bay Area commercial fisherman teaches students about salmon fishing in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Vanessa Gayton

Sanctuaries travel to the classroom

This year, educators brought national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments to the classroom. Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary served over 9,000 students through several programs, including a collaboration with local fishermen, the Fisherman in the Classroom program. Nearly 900 students joined commercial fishermen to discuss fishing and the relationship among sanctuaries, healthy oceans, and the fishing community. In other schools, students participated in the Winged Ambassadors curriculum. In this program, students track albatross migration from the Hawaiian Islands to the West Coast, learning about the human effects on marine life and seabirds in the process. Staff at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary worked with a summer school program in Lawrence, Massachusetts, bringing information to fourth graders on humpback whales and their environment. Many of these students have links to the Caribbean where the whales spend their winters. The program culminated with a whale watch into the sanctuary during Latino Conservation Week.

Festival fun

Hundreds of thousands of people got to interact with sanctuary staff at festivals, parades, film events, and more. The yearly St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, Georgia, drew viewers who got to see dancing jellies and sharks representing Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Further north, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary participated in its hometown St. Patrick’s Day parade, the second largest such parade in Massachusetts, with tens of thousands turning out to see the sanctuary’s research inflatable and hear whale sounds. Other events throughout the year include Greater Farallones’ annual SharktoberFest, which drew a crowd of 1,600, as well as the Maritime Festival in Thunder Bay.

Films also caught the attention of our visitors. Three film festivals at Greater Farallones, Thunder Bay, and Gray’s Reef national marine sanctuaries inspired moviegoers to consider their role in ocean conservation. The International Film Festival in Thunder Bay was complemented by social events, educational activities, and opportunities to meet filmmakers, as well as a student competition, while the Greater Farallones festival included panel discussions and a workshop. Gray’s Reef also gave the audience the opportunity to see what the offshore reef looks like.

students gathered around a projector screen showing two people
Students participate in a ship-to-shore event with researchers and crew aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. Photo: Jennifer Stock/NOAA

Watching ocean explorations in real time

The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and the Exploration Vessel Nautilus both conducted massive explorations in and around sanctuaries this year. Okeanos Explorer made its way to American Samoa, where about 200 students were able to watch a livestream from Okeanos ROVs. Nautilus traveled along the West Coast, passing through three sanctuaries – Olympic Coast, Cordell Bank, and Channel Islands – and reaching 148 million people. There were several livestreams and educational activities from each of the sanctuaries, like whale watching and virtual dives. Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary also conducted their own live dive this year, with over 45,000 views, with people from as far away as Romania tuning in!

Lectures to learning

Public lecture series are great ways to engage the public and share the latest science happening in the sanctuary. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary hosted several marine researchers to give an eight-part presentation on ocean conservation and sanctuary conditions. Down in the Gulf of Mexico, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary continued their Seaside Chats. Greater Farallones hosted two Sanctuary Soirees reaching 375 people, featuring experts on “extreme” ocean life, and octopuses! Monitor National Marine Sanctuary hosted over 30 lectures bringing shipwrecks to life and reaching over 500 people, including over 200 students and teachers.

students launch a submersible into a water tank
Students launch an ROV in a tank at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s visitor center for the International MATE Student ROV Competition. Photo: Tane Casserley/NOAA

Technology competitions engage students

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. 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. This was also the first year Olympic Coast hosted an event and held an educator workshop prior to introduce them to aspects of the competition. Thirteen teams competed for two awards in Forks, Washington.

Learning isn’t just for the classroom

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s Navigating Change program inspires students to participate in clinics and other activities that encourage ocean conservation and an eco-friendly lifestyle. Additionally, National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa directed students’ interest towards the environment during the Sanctuary Summer Science in the Village program. This program is dedicated to teaching students about the threats to marine life in their area and maintaining a recreational and cultural relationship with the ocean. These programs have been increasing stewardship in coastal communities and promoting conservation awareness to all ages.

students at the noaa ship thomas jefferson
Students from Crittenden Middle School in Newport News, Virginia, visit NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson as part of their NOAA Shipwreck of the Deep class. Students toured the ship and learned how NOAA surveys the ocean and helps maritime archaeologists find shipwrecks. Photo: Shannon Ricles/NOAA

Sunken ships engage students

In Monitor National Marine Sanctuary’s Shipwreck of the Deep program, students investigated the rich history of shipwrecks. Using science and technology skills, students explored the technology used to discover and explore shipwrecks, while learning about our nation’s rich maritime heritage. The program engaged students in a variety of activities to learn about our nation’s cultural and natural resources. This program has had such great results that it’s been expanding every year since it began in 2013!

Sharing science through social media

Social media has proven to be a key way to educate the public about the National Marine Sanctuary System. At Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Dr. Michelle Johnston led a Facebook Live presentation, demonstrating dissection of invasive lionfish with the help of students from Rice University; the video had over 10,000 views! NOAA researchers from Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary used Reddit to answer the public’s questions about protecting whales.

The staff at the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries will continue to strive for the best education of marine life and all it encomposses for the public. As the sanctuary system has the opportunity to reflect on some of our top education events from last year, we hope that 2018 will bring as much success as this year.

Gabriella Valderrama is a volunteer education and outreach intern at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.