Captivating the Nation: Education and Outreach Programs Bring Communities Together

By Eve Moulin

January 2020

From American Samoa to Massachusetts Bay, National Marine Sanctuary System education and outreach programs provide opportunities for the public to experience the beauty of our national marine sanctuaries and learn how to protect and conserve these vital resources. Education and outreach efforts inspire people of all ages to get involved, get active, and get into their sanctuary!

Here are some education highlights from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in 2019.

Introducing the Country’s 14th National Marine Sanctuary: Mallows Bay

Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary was designated in September 2019, making it the 14th national marine sanctuary managed by NOAA. Education efforts have already begun in the “outdoor classroom” of this 18-mile stretch of the Potomac River—the resting place of more than 100 wooden steamship remnants. Two NOAA Ocean Guardian schools in Maryland and many visitors will connect with Mallows Bay as a living classroom.

Through this new marine protected area, students have partnered with the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, Diving With a Purpose, and Junior Scientists in the Sea for in-pool dive instruction that introduces advanced technologies that one day may be the inspiration for academic and career pursuits.

a young woman with dive equipment in a pool
Lackey High School students obtain scuba diving instruction with the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and Diving With a Purpose. Photo: Sammy Orlando/NOAA

Exploring the Depths (Without Getting Wet)

Thanks to livestream video technology, more than 4,500 classroom students and members of the public gathered at science centers and national marine sanctuary visitor centers across the country were able to explore marine ecosystems in seven sanctuaries without putting on scuba gear or riding in a submarine.

Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration explored within and around Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary with researchers aboard the R/V Manta. Scientists used the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Yogi to observe diverse habitats during a three-week expedition focused on coral reef biodiversity and connectivity, coral spawning, and black coral genetics. The cruise was live-streamed, which allowed the science team to share new and exciting discoveries with the public in real time.

At Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researchers documented the wreck of the steamship Portland. Their goal: to study how the wreck has changed over time and record the marine life that it supports. The science team used an ROV to capture video footage to incorporate into live programs with classrooms and museums and to collect high-definition images of the ship that will be used to create virtual 3D models.

Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) visited Thunder Bay, American Samoa, Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries in 2019. OET, sanctuary scientists, and partners focused their efforts on mapping unexplored regions of these national marine sanctuaries while identifying areas of significance to further categorize biological and cultural resources of importance. Much of their work focused on deep-water habitats and documenting biological communities. Scientists aboard the E/V Nautilus in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary returned to the “octopus garden” that was discovered in 2018. The garden is home to over 1,000 brooding female octopuses in the deep-water region and is quite a rare sight to see. Ship-to-shore programs and live interactions with classrooms and the public were conducted on each expedition.

Another captivating research expedition happened at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Scientists aboard the R/V Falkor recovered meteorite fragments that littered the seafloor from a meteorite that smashed into the sanctuary’s waters in March of 2018. During the expedition, the crew held a ship-to-shore event where scientists talked to students from the Quinault Indian Nation, the tribal community located closest to where the meteorite fell. NASA is studying the fragments to determine if enough of the meteorite was collected to allow further analysis and warrant an official record in the database of the Meteoritical Society.

Connecting Young Minds to Ocean Stewardship with Sanctuary Summer Camps

This summer, camps across the sanctuaries brought children together to connect with and learn about the importance of protecting these special marine places.

Sanctuary Summer Science in the Village was a two-day program held at two schools in Ta‘u, American Samoa. Participants were able to experience the magic of national marine sanctuaries through activities including virtual tours, building a boat and robotic arm, mapping the seafloor, and learning about water properties and currents. The activities emphasized the importance of coral reefs, human impacts, and how to protect and preserve the special resources of National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. The program motivated and challenged kids to be stewards of the ocean. In addition, through virtual tours, students and community members were able to explore the underwater world of the sanctuary without stepping foot into the water.

students sitting on the floor looking at virtual reality viewers
Students and community members from Ta‘u participated in the 2019 Sanctuary Summer Science in the Village program. Photo: Isabel Halatuituia/NOAA

During the four-week Circle of Life STEM Camp at Mokupāpapa Discovery Center, students participated in craft projects, pottery, robotics, and science experiments. At Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, several summer camps were offered, such as the Junior Oceanographer camp, in partnership with the Feiro Marine Life Center, and a Youth Creation Care Pilgrimage that took teens and adult chaperones on a week-long investigation that ended in the sanctuary.

Robotics Workshop Tunes Young Minds into Marine Science Technology

National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa invited Michigan-based Stockbridge High School’s InvenTeam to conduct research, test equipment, and lead educational and outreach projects at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center. Over 60 students and teachers from local schools in American Samoa attended and were given the chance to build an ROV from PVC pipes and motors donated by the team. The InvenTeam also visited schools to further engage with students and the community. In April 2019, inspired by the Michigan students, National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa hosted the first-ever American Samoa Underwater ROV competition.

two kids launching an ROV in a pool
Students compete in the Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle Mini Competition. Photo: NOAA

National Marine Sanctuary System Volunteers Enhance Education Programs

National marine sanctuary volunteers are a vital and powerful force contributing significantly to the success of the sanctuary system. These volunteers participate in a wide variety of activities including diving, whale identification, beach cleanups, water quality monitoring, collecting field observations and surveys, acting as visitor center docents, and wildlife monitoring. Overall, nearly 12,000 volunteers around the U.S. helped to protect and conserve America’s underwater treasures in 2019.

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary launched its Naturalist Course at the beginning of 2019. This 22-hour training emphasized field explorations, citizen science initiatives, and the latest research on marine life. Now, 24 trained volunteers will engage with the public, teaching them about the unique ecosystem found within the sanctuary.

In Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, volunteers participated in shoreline cleanups for the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys initiative. More than 250 volunteers removed approximately 10,915 pounds of trash from beaches and nearshore mangrove islands. Most of the debris they collected was plastic bottles, caps, and bags as well as derelict fishing gear.

people gathered for a photo with a Goal: Clean Seas poster
Volunteers in Key Largo gather to support Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys. Photo: Marlies Tumolo/NOAA

Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers hosted an educational booth at the 12th Annual NOAA Day at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. The event drew about 7,000 aquarium visitors who got the chance to learn about the many facets of NOAA's mission. Naturalist Corps volunteers are trained by the sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park to provide public interpretation on whale watch trips, island hike tours, and community outreach events. Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers also participate in citizen science data collection of marine mammal sightings and science nights at local schools.

two volunteers at a booth with channel islands national marine sanctuary and national park signage
Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers handed out sanctuary whale hats and excited families about the ocean conservation work during Science Night at an elementary school in Santa Barbara. Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Alpena High School Introduces "Science in the Sanctuary" Class

Alpena High School has a new project-based learning class called Science in the Sanctuary. The new year-long class for 9th graders fulfills their Michigan graduation requirements for environmental science and 9th-grade English language arts. The class evolved out of an elective Earth science class called “Shipwreck Alley.” Both classes have used the high school’s proximity to Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary as a catalyst for student learning grounded in place-based stewardship education. For example, during the fall semester, students research the sanctuary nomination process and the natural and cultural history of the sanctuary, culminating in public presentations to the community—including members of Thunder Bay’s Sanctuary Advisory Council. These students are learning what impact they can have as community members and stewards of the sanctuary in their “backyard.”

Hispanic Access Foundation Supports Education and Recreation at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary partnered with the Hispanic Access Foundation to bring 84 community members and students from Lawrence Public Schools on a whale watching trip to celebrate the 6th annual Latino Conservation Week. Sanctuary educators introduced rising 5th and 6th graders in the Lawrence summer school program to the topics of whale migration, the intricate web of marine life in Massachusetts Bay, the cultural and social connections between marine sanctuaries in the Eastern U.S. and the Caribbean, and environmental career opportunities. Many of the students have connections to the Dominican Republic, where Stellwagen Bank humpback whales spend their winters. “Latinos are passionate about enjoying the outdoors and their stewardship of places like Stellwagen [Bank] is essential to protecting it for future generations,” says Marlene Manzo, a program associate with Hispanic Access Foundation. “It’s vital to introduce Latinos to new opportunities, new locations, and new ways to translate their passion for the outdoors into making a difference for our nation’s treasured natural resources.”

students on a whale watching boat with a whale tail at the ocean surface in the distance
Students from Lawrence Public Schools participate in whale watching in celebration of the 6th annual Latino Conservation Week. Photo: Anne Smrcina/NOAA

New Sounds in the Sanctuary Exhibit Launches in Santa Cruz

A new exhibit at the Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, California lets visitors listen to sounds collected from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s hydrophone in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Visitors can press a button and listen to a sound and view an accompanying frequency spectrogram. After a few seconds, a video appears on the large Open Ocean Mini Theater screen revealing the sound source and a message. The sounds are from either human (e.g., container ships), animal (e.g., blue or humpback whales, sea lions) or natural (e.g., earthquake, rain) origins.

This exhibit uses listening as a way of understanding the sanctuary ecosystem. NOAA scientists are deploying hydrophones in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to conduct research to better understand the dynamic environment. This research helps scientists better understand what organisms visit the sanctuary during certain times of year, as well as detect human-made noises.

Bringing Sanctuaries to You Through Distance Learning

Anyone is just a click away from science-based learning with the National Marine Sanctuaries Distance Learning Webinar Series, which provides educators with the educational and scientific expertise, resources, and training to support ocean and climate literacy in the classroom. In 2019, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries offered eight distance-learning opportunities reaching over 3,100 total attendees.

A featured webinar from Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary discussed humpback whale entanglements. Resource protection and response coordinator Ed Lyman conducted the webinar and promoted resources, information, and data to be incorporated by teachers for lessons involving humpback whales.

Outreach Events Reach Thousands

Our sanctuaries interact with the general public in fun and exciting ways. Monitor National Marine Sanctuary reached over 3,000 people through community outreach events and presentations last year. Over three days during the annual Get Into Your Sanctuary event, more than 1,200 people experienced the sanctuary through fun interactive games and exhibits while visiting Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is the closest point of land to Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary staff and supporters swept through the streets of Savannah for the 195th Savannah St. Patrick's Day parade. The float dazzled the record-breaking crowds with glittering jellies, baby sharks, scuba divers, and NOAA Corps officers marching alongside the Gray’s Reef float. Connections to community leave a lasting impression and attract future visitors!

people in ocean-related costumes gathered for a photo in front of a parade float
NOAA staff and volunteers dress up to bring the ocean to life during the annual Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade. Photo: NOAA

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary hosted its annual Sharktoberfest with more than 1,600 people venturing to the visitor center at Crissy Field in San Francisco for activities such as the Shark Science Station, shark photography and films, live sharks, Sharkitecture 101 (“Build a Shark”), and “Tag the Shark.”

people approaching informational tents in front of the golden gate bridge
SharktoberFest drew over 1,600 visitors to the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary campus near the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: NOAA

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary staff, Washington Service Corps AmeriCorps members, and volunteers hosted an educational booth at the 17th annual Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival in Port Angeles, Washington, reaching out to the more than 10,000 people attending the event. Visitors were delighted with hands-on activities, like games and experiments about the impact of ocean acidification on sea life, coupled with easy actions to implement for reducing carbon footprints in everyday life.

And Many More!

National marine sanctuaries education staff and volunteers work tirelessly to touch new communities through different programs at the sanctuaries and online. The National Marine Sanctuary System reached nearly 180,000 youth and adults to promote ocean literacy and informed environmental decisions. More than 6,100 educators and nearly 70,000 K-12 students learned more about ocean literacy and conservation. Throughout this year, and every year, hundreds of new experiences happen through our national marine sanctuaries, each one unique and amazing. Thank you to everyone who took the opportunity to enjoy and protect these amazing resources.

Eve Moulin is a volunteer intern for the Education and Outreach Division at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.