Aquariums and marine science centers play an important role in both educating the public about ocean issues and engaging communities in conservation activities. Partnering with NOAA can be a win-win.
By working with aquariums, NOAA can reach people in settings that promote learning. At the same time, aquariums benefit from NOAA’s expertise in ocean science and conservation. However, even the most effective partnerships sometimes need a jump start to keep them relevant and vibrant.
In 1996, Coastal America — a consortium of federal agencies — established the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center (CELC) Network as a platform to collaborate with aquariums. Today the CELC Network comprises 25 aquariums and marine science centers in North America with a combined annual visitorship of more than 20 million people. However, recent years have seen a decrease in funding and a corresponding drop in participation among network members. NOAA’s Office of Education began coordinating the CELC Network in March 2015, with a mandate to reinvigorate the network and maintain this important connection to aquariums.
20 million people
visit Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers each year.
Together, NOAA and the Learning Centers developed a new strategic plan that emphasizes the unique nature of the CELC Network: that its members work together to engage the public in protecting coastal and marine ecosystems. Recognizing that each member institution already undertakes education and engagement activities, the network instead chose to focus on how to magnify individual aquarium’s efforts for a greater impact.
The network has decided to focus on youth engagement and community resilience, and is currently developing activities for both of these topics. The network has also agreed to use a coordinated approach to social media and to participate in existing, ocean-related activities and events, such as World Oceans Day and International Coastal Cleanup Day. Members participate and communicate with one another regularly through a listserv. As a result, the CELC Network is once again an active partner in NOAA’s efforts to advance ocean literacy.