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Lessons from the Deep


From the water to the classroom, sanctuaries are dynamic living laboratories for learning

National marine sanctuaries are living classrooms that inspire discovery, inquiry, and a fascination for the underwater world. From teaching sustainable recreation to divers and boaters to inspiring the next generation of ocean stewards in classrooms and beyond, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation supports learning for all ages. 

Gail Krueger/NOAA
Claire Fackler, NOAA


Fostering the Next Generation of Ocean Stewards

The Ocean Guardian program provides opportunities for kids to explore and form personal connections with the ocean and Great Lakes. In cooperation with NOAA Office of Marine Sanctuaries, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation offers small grants to schools to complete environmental projects that help the students learn first-hand how their actions impact the watershed where they live.  The program inspires kids from elementary to high school to adopt best practices to reduce pollution and become conservation influencers at home and in their communities. Ocean Guardian Schools are found in California, New York, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, and Hawaii. The Foundation recently helped expand the program to Texas, partnering to pilot the program at two schools in Galveston, connecting students to wildlife in Flower Garden Banks NMS in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation also recognizes the importance of getting students out of their school and into the environment. In 2015, the Foundation dedicated part of its Hollings Awards funding to a partnership with the Every Kid in a Park initiative to get all of America’s 4th graders to experience this Nation’s public lands and waters.  The Foundation successfully worked with sanctuaries across the U.S. including Monterey Bay, Monitor, Thunder Bay, and Channel Islands, for Hands on the Land grants, providing bus transportation costs that allow more students to experience their local national marine sanctuaries.

And for all the times when bringing the students to the sanctuary just isn’t feasible, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation works to bring the sanctuary to the school. The Foundation had the opportunity to help Stellwagen Bank NMS bring “Salt”–one of the most recognizable humpback whales to call that sanctuary home–to life for students in the greater Boston area by supporting the creation of a life-sized, walk-through inflatable designed to look like its namesake. The eye-catching visitor to schools and community centers allows sanctuary educators to connect the lessons about this species to the value of having a protected area like a national marine sanctuary right in their backyard. 


Working with Teachers

The average elementary school teacher in an American public school teaches 21 students. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation supports a number of professional development opportunities for teachers that help educators understand real-life applications of scientific process, pass on to their students a passion for discovery and exploration, and bring sanctuary and broader ocean and Great Lakes lessons to classrooms across the U.S.

Among the projects that the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation supports is a program that provides educators in all subject areas the chance to explore ocean science through hands-on, real-life work onboard research ships alongside leading scientists as participants in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program. They return to the classroom with stronger skills in environmental literacy and new ideas in teaching methods. To date, more than 700 instructors at the K-12 and secondary levels, representing schools across the country, have experienced daily life at sea. The Foundation supports the Teacher at Sea Alumni Association, a national network for past participants to extend their learning, secure further classroom resources and stay connected to the program.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation also supports teacher workshops at aquariums and science centers throughout the U.S. Teachers attend two workshops a year to learn curriculum and activities based on missions of the NOAA research vessel Okeanos Explorer that they can replicate in their individual classrooms.


Learning through Entertainment

Many national marine sanctuaries abound with recreational opportunities because they are coastal and easy to access. For more remote areas of marine and Great Lakes sanctuaries, pictures and film are the best way for the public to get a look at the amazing things happening below the surface. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is a strong advocate for the development of multimedia opportunities that record and interpret the underwater natural and cultural resources of sanctuaries.

The Foundation is a partner in the Earth is Blue social media campaign spearheaded by NOAA Sanctuaries in 2014. With a photo a day and a video a week, the campaign brings stories from the blue to the palm of your hand.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation  is no stranger to the big screen, and supports numerous short- and feature-length films. Most recently, NMSF funding helped bring the story of a tiny, remote island to the world. The 2015 Jean-Michel Cousteau documentary Swains Island – The Last Jewel of the Planet captured its role in ancient Polynesian culture and pristine coral reefs, reinforcing the importance of sustaining ocean resources.

Film festivals are important to market and share supported multimedia projects. The Gray’s Reef Chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in Savannah, Georgia, helps support the sanctuary’s Gray’s Reef Film Festival. The event is just one of several sanctuary-focused annual film festivals across the country.


At your local sanctuary

Interactive exhibits at visitor centers allow people to experience the sanctuary without getting wet. Guests at sanctuary visitor centers can maneuver a remote operated vehicle through a submarine canyon in Monterey Bay, pretend to be an aquanaut submerged in the Aquarius habitat in the Florida Keys, or investigate the history and influence of Polynesian culture in the Hawaiian islands.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s commitment to ocean education spans the sanctuary system, which has led to large campaigns to fund exhibits for the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West, Florida, and the Monterey Bay NMS Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, California. The Foundation collaborates with sanctuaries to produce exhibits from signage, to kiosks, to films, and beyond, that entertain and engage hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. And the best part–sanctuary visitor centers charge no admission.

Toni Parras

Communications Manager
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

“Because Papahānaumokuākea is so remote and hard to access, a critical part of our education efforts is to ‘bring the place to the people.’  When I first heard about the Monument I thought, ‘What a remote and obscure place – how can people possibly learn more about it?’  Now my job is to share the wealth of fascinating research and discoveries happening at the site.  Through free outreach events, school visits, TV, print and online news stories and social media, we are able to share the incredible features of Papahānaumokuākea with the world.”

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