NOAA celebrates 10 years of building ocean literacy with The Ocean Project

Far from the ocean, St. Louis youth encouraged visitors to their local zoo to reduce their use of plastics to prevent marine debris. On the West Coast, Seattle teens led a campaign to encourage their peers to reduce their carbon footprint. In these and 16 other cities around the country, zoos, aquariums, and museums advanced ocean literacy through a series of projects that were as rooted in social science as they were in ocean science.

With support from The Ocean Project and NOAA, the Woodland Park Zoo created the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (Seattle Youth CAN). This project empowered youth lead campaigns and encourage their peers to reduce carbon emissions.
With support from The Ocean Project and NOAA, the Woodland Park Zoo created the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (Seattle Youth CAN). This project empowered youth lead campaigns and encourage their peers to reduce carbon emissions. (Woodland Park Zoo)

These projects marked the culmination of a 10-year partnership between NOAA and The Ocean Project offsite link, a nonprofit organization that works with America's zoos, aquariums, and museums to advance ocean conservation. The partnership formed in 2007 in response to a report from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which found that Americans did not fully grasp the ocean’s influence on their lives or their own influence on the ocean. This prompted NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program to put out a call to fund institutions that could help NOAA fill this gap and foster ocean literacy offsite link in communities across the country. 

The partnership started by working to answer some basic questions about how people get information about the ocean and what they know about the subject. The Ocean Project’s research offsite link supported the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s finding that the public had only a limited understanding of the relationship between their everyday routines and the ocean. Fortunately, their research also pointed to a solution: the public expects and trusts informal science institutions to educate them on ocean issues. Furthermore, visitors to zoos, aquariums and museums seek advice on concrete actions they can take to solve these problems.

Their team supported a cohort offsite link of 18 zoos, aquariums and museums to increase ocean literacy and promote coastal and ocean conservation through programs that focused on local solutions to global problems. In turn, the grantees shared offsite link best practices, lessons learned, and resources with each other and The Ocean Project’s network of over 2,000 partner zoos, aquariums, and museums.

Empowering youth to become conservation advocates was one such best practice. For example, with support from The Ocean Project’s ISG+ program, the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, launched the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network offsite link (Seattle Youth CAN) in collaboration with the Seattle Aquarium and the Pacific Science Center. Seattle Youth CAN enabled teens to address environmental issues in their communities, including increasing awareness and concern about the consequences of ocean warming and acidification -- both important topics for Puget Sound and the Washington coast. Beyond participating in the program, teens led the effort to develop in-person and social media campaigns that encourage their peers to reduce CO2 emissions. They promoted solutions like public transit, ride share, biking, and walking. Their efforts paid off, too. According to the Woodland Park Zoo, the campaigns saved over 12,000 pounds of CO2 in one year. Seattle Youth CAN has served offsite link over 600 teens from the Seattle area since 2015, and continues to empower teens and their peers to act. 

In 2017, The Ocean Project completed work on their ISG+ program. Projects from other members of the ISG+ cohort served youth and adult learners from around the country, both on the coasts and in landlocked states. Other strategies developed by ISG+ grantees included turning inspiration into action and focusing on community-level actions. Educators at these institutions found the program very valuable. Windy Arey-Kent, Education Coordinator at North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, a member of the ISG+ cohort, summed up her experience by saying, “[The Ocean Project’s ISG+ program] was so beneficial, not only for me, but for my staff and our facility. The lessons learned through this project were significant and pertinent to our departmental goals, plus we had a lot of fun!”

NOAA Environmental Literacy Program’s 10-year partnership with The Ocean Project exemplifies the lifespan of a successful collaboration, from its initial inception to answer big questions about how people get information about the ocean, to a series of projects that put social science research into action and enabled people to take action on the ocean issues they care about.

The Ocean Project's Innovative Solution Grants-Plus (ISG+) Cohort:

  • Aquarium of the Bay (San Francisco, California)
  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Brevard Zoo (Melbourne, Florida)
  • Detroit Zoological Society (Royal Oak, Michigan)
  • Florida Aquarium (Tampa, Florida)
  • Fresno Chaffee Zoo (Fresno, California)
  • Gladys Porter Zoo (Brownsville, Texas)
  • Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago, Illinois)
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)
  • National Aquarium (Baltimore, Maryland)
  • New England Aquarium (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • North Carolina Aquarium Society (Raleigh, North Carolina)
  • Oregon Coast Aquarium (Newport, Oregon)
  • Philadelphia Zoo (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • Riverbanks Zoo and Garden (Columbia, South Carolina)
  • Saint Louis Zoological Park (Saint Louis, Missouri)
  • Utah's Hogle Zoo (Salt Lake City, Utah)
  • Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle, Washington)

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