NOAA announces aquaculture literacy mini-grant awardees

NOAA and the North American Association for Environmental Education offsite link (NAAEE) are awarding $150,000 to 10 projects that aim to enhance aquaculture literacy. Selected projects offsite link will reach community members in six states, many of whom have never had access to this level of aquaculture outreach and education resources

In the foreground, the photographer holds an oyster in their hand while in the background a person can be seen bending down to install a GoPro camera on an oyster cage.
In the foreground, the photographer holds an oyster in their hand while in the background a person can be seen bending down to install a GoPro camera on an oyster cage. (Rachell LaBella/University of Massachusetts Boston)

These mini-grants will provide informal learning institutions (e.g., aquariums and visitor’s centers), aquaculture industry (e.g., shellfish, finfish, and seaweed farmers), and NOAA partners with support to co-develop innovative educational experiences that explore aquaculture topics. Selected projects will implement locally relevant, needs-based aquaculture literacy projects that enhance their target audience’s understanding and engagement in aquaculture in their region. By requiring eligible applicants to build partnerships across the education, industry, and government sectors, NOAA and NAAEE are supporting innovative, first-of-their-kind efforts that pull from each sector’s unique expertise to address gaps in aquaculture literacy. 

Emily Yam of Aquarium of the Pacific said, “[Our project called] Ocean Farmers creates opportunities for us to collaborate with different partners, provide staff professional development, and test out ways to integrate more play and exploration when we teach about aquaculture.” 

Kate Holcomb, director of Canopy Farms in Brunswick, Maine, explained, “Our facility was designed in part to be a gathering place for the community to learn about sustainable agriculture and aquaculture. As a part of this cohort we'll be able to take that vision to the next level." 

Funding for this aquaculture literacy program is provided by NOAA Fisheries and administered by NAAEE. “We are thrilled to be part of this effort to enhance aquaculture literacy in communities across the nation,” said Kate Naughten, director of communications for NOAA Fisheries. “Much of our agency’s success is built on strong partnerships, so any time we can help engage communities and form new partnerships around the common goal of sustainable seafood we are all in.” 

Supporting and implementing these cross-sectoral projects will provide each project’s target audiences with opportunities to participate in high-quality programming that pairs aquaculture communication needs with existing research. “The timing for this project is perfect to bring together our team to increase aquaculture literacy of the people in our region,” said Dr. Kevan Main of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. “There is a lot of interest in offshore aquaculture due to the Velella Demonstration project being site off the coast of Sarasota and this display will enable us to provide answers to questions people may have.”

In addition to using NOAA and NAAEE assets, these projects centered around building lasting partnerships will make a significant contribution toward the overall success of NOAA’s sustainable aquaculture initiatives. “Most of the public still has limited understanding of aquaculture and may encounter information that can be out of date, inaccurate, or incomplete,” said Cindy Sandoval, communications specialist for NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. “Having a trusted education source or community member share regional specific information can increase aquaculture and sustainable seafood literacy.”

These grants are part of eeBLUE offsite link, NAAEE’s effort to build collaborative partnerships that support the mutual environmental education goals of NOAA and NAAEE. “We hope that these mini-grants will enable connections between aquarium partners, industry, and NOAA experts, and I cannot think of a better home for this effort than eeBLUE,” said Christos Michalopoulos, deputy director of NOAA’s Office of Education. “NAAEE's expertise in sharing best practices and scaling up innovative solutions will be an invaluable asset for these projects.” 

“It’s exciting to imagine the impacts that could have — someone leaving a science café where they heard a mussel grower tell the story of their business, then cooking a meal for friends using those mussels; or a high schooler who learns about how kelp is grown, tries it, and asks their parent to get some for their home,” said Kate Hacomb. “What else will it lead to, as it ripples out from there?”

“We are excited to dive deeper into our eeBLUE partnership with this wonderful initiative!” said T’Noya Thompson, grants and program manager at NAAEE. “Together, NAAEE and NOAA look forward to seeing how these unique projects and partnerships support aquaculture literacy.”