As they documented the beauty of national marine sanctuaries on both coasts, 60 students from across the globe discovered how the ocean connects us all.
In California, Ocean for Life students help collect samples on a research vessel in South San Francisco Bay.
In July and August, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) sponsored the 2009 Ocean for Life program, which gathers high school students from Western and Middle Eastern nations to promote cultural understanding through ocean science.
“Ocean for Life aligns perfectly with ONMS’s mandate for education,” says ONMS Director Dan Basta. “All life in the sea is connected. This experience helps young people discover how they are connected, too.”
The first 30 students represented the United States, Canada, France, Norway, Denmark, Armenia, Australia, Lebanon, Morocco, and Pakistan. They traveled to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in Key Largo, where they met with their program mentors, staff from the National Geographic Photo Camp, and graduate students from American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking in Washington, DC. After splitting into two groups to document their experiences – one to produce a video, the other a photographic essay – the students pursued ocean adventures.
Participants in this year’s Ocean for Life program immersed themselves in the life and times of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries. Here, students practice snorkeling in Key Largo, Florida.
For the next 10 days, they immersed themselves in the life and times of the sanctuary. They visited a dolphin research center and a hospital for injured sea turtles. They learned about coral reefs, fisheries, and efforts to protect sea grass and mangrove trees. On snorkeling expeditions, they explored a shipwreck and helped with a survey for REEF (the Reef Environmental Education Foundation), in which volunteers collect and report information on fish.
In the evenings, the students worked on their projects. Talk naturally turned to their respective cultures. As they shared about their everyday lives, they discovered that similarities outweighed differences. Laughing, singing, music, and dancing ensued. Friendships formed. Cultural gaps evaporated like mist on the morning shore.
Then, with thousands of photos and miles of video footage to their credit, the young explorers returned to Washington, DC, where they met the second group of 30 students, toured the capital, and found it hard to say farewell.
As the students got to know each other, their differences evaporated like mist on the morning shore.
The second group, representing the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan, then embarked on its own journey to California’s Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries. Again, working either as videographers or photographers, the students spent 10 days uncovering the wonders the ocean realm.
They learned about beach ecology, conservation issues, and deep-sea research of the central California coast as they learned more about each other. During a kayak tour of Tomales Bay and a research cruise with the Marine Science Institute, the students participated in monitoring activities such as measuring ocean and air temperatures and salt and sediment concentrations. They also observed a colony of elephant seals, spent a night at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and got a sense of life in the ocean depths at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
The students exchanged ideas on many topics on their own social networking site.
Erika Matadamas, from Monterey, California, saw her shores in a new light during the field study. She writes, “Beyond the beauty that the ocean holds, it managed to bring people from different cultures, backgrounds, and countries together. The friends I made and the connection that I made with the ocean fully exemplifies OFL’s theme that we are ‘one world, one ocean.’ ”
Grace Park, from Wisconsin, wrote of her trip to the Florida Keys, “I treasure the moments I had with the delegates from every single country. You are all so full of humor, character, and devotion. Before this trip, I mostly heard about many cultures through the media, which cannot always be trusted. There is so much sensationalism. Words are misconstrued and countries are misrepresented. Your countries [should] be proud.”
The Ocean for Life program is a partnership between the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program, and Scubanauts International.
It is presented in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking, the Meridian International Center, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Supporters include the Ell Mar Foundation, Inc. and Able Body Labor, Inc.