Over the last four years, 187 Boy Scouts from as far away as Georgia and South Carolina have worked toward their merit badges in oceanography by participating in an annual event hosted by NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanography Products and Services (CO-OPS) Field Operations Division, located in Chesapeake, Virginia.
This year, 44 boys aged 11 to 17 built makeshift buoys and learned what made them float (or not). The scouts were divided into five groups and rotated through five work stations where, in addition to the physics of buoyancy, they learned about shipwrecks, hydrography, Chesapeake Bay ecology, and ocean acidification.
Boy Scout merit badge counselor Joe Colby, a systems administrator at NOAA’s National Ocean Service, coordinates several merit badge programs throughout the year. The Oceanography merit badge is the most popular. The yearly event is staffed by volunteers from CO-OPS, the Atlantic Hydrographic Branch of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, NOAA's Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, the Nauticus maritime museum, and Old Dominion University.
Matthew Watts, 14, a scout from Yorktown, Virginia, obtained his Oceanography merit badge at summer camp last year but attended the event to learn more about ocean-related subjects. “I’m interested in a career in marine biology,” he said, noting that “As a marine biologist, I would need to know all about ocean processes like waves, currents, tides, and habitats, and how they affect wildlife migration patterns.” He especially liked the module on ocean acidification testing because “it demonstrated how acid affects organic materials and carbon dioxide plays a role in acidification of the ocean.”
“Most of us remember someone – a teacher, friend, or neighbor – who influenced us in some way that made our life better,” says Colby. “I enjoy the challenge of coordinating and hosting these events and making them fun, exciting, and interesting. A 1995 Boy Scouts of America study showed that 17 percent of scouts who worked on merit badges discovered a lifelong hobby or career as a result! Opening doors for youth to see beyond where they are, and introducing them to different opportunities, helps both our communities and the economy.”