Establishing meaningful connections between young people and the great outdoors is vital to the health of our protected waters. NOAA’s Ocean Guardian School program is aiming to do just that! Started in 2009, the Ocean Guardian School program provides small grants to K-12 schools in California, New York, Maryland, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Florida, and most recently North Carolina, to carry out school- and community-based stewardship projects that make a difference in the health and protection of their local watersheds, our one ocean, and special ocean areas such as national marine sanctuaries. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation supports this by funding Ocean Guardian School projects, providing resources to educators, and hosting a space where students can learn about the ocean or sanctuary near them.
Schools receive funding for specific projects that are connected to one of the five Ocean Guardian School ocean and climate literacy pathways:
1) Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot;
2) Marine Debris;
4) Schoolyard Garden/Habitat;
5) And Energy & Ocean Health
To date, the program has awarded $911,590 to empower 113 schools, 43 of which are located in low-income areas, directly involving more than 51,000 students. Some examples of stewardship projects include removing invasive plants and replanting native plants to revitalize beach dunes, creeks, and school gardens; installing recycling and compost bins to reduce waste on campus; and conducting trash cleanups along local beaches to reduce marine debris.
To date, grants provided to schools by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to schools lead to large impacts that “guard” the ocean including 145,548 kg of trash removed from school or community sites; 497,788 plastic bottles kept out of the landfill; 33,948 square meters of non-native invasive plants removed from school or community sites; 1,427 compost and recycle bins installed; and 28,293 reusable bags and bottles distributed to replace single-use plastic items.
Goleta Family School, an Ocean Guardian School in Santa Barbara, CA was recently acknowledged for the work they did to reduce litter in their community. During their weekly beach cleanups, the students noticed an increase in the amount of plastic mint candy wrappers, which they were able to trace to a nearby restaurant. The students contacted the owners of the restaurant and challenged them to change their purchasing practices from individually-wrapped mints to bulk alternatives. This change resulted in a reduction of plastic found on the beach and an opportunity to show that small changes in behavior can lead to large impacts on the ocean environment.
To find out more about applying for an Ocean Guardian grant for your school: