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Making Waves: Episode 31 (July 22, 2009)


This week, we're traveling down to NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary where high school students from the Middle East, North Africa, North America, and Europe are gathered to take part in a new program that uses the power of the ocean to bridge cultural divides. It's called Ocean for Life.

It's Wednesday, July 22nd, and you're listening to Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.


From July 15th through August 9th, sixty students from Western, Middle Eastern, and North African countries are participating in Ocean for Life, a new program that aims to teach students from around the world about research, conservation, and stewardship to address issues facing ocean health.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries in Florida and California are hosting the students for on-site field studies, and the students will also participate in a three-day visit to Washington, D.C.

Here's how the program is set up. The field study in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is now taking place through July 25, and it's bringing together students from Armenia, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Lebanon, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, and the U.S. Another field study is set to run from July 30 through August 9 at California's Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries, and this will include students from Bahrain, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. And in between these field studies, all the students will meet up in Washington, D.C. from July 26 through 29 for meetings and tours of the nation's capitol.

Last Friday, we called up NOAA's Jonathan Shannon to tell us more about this ambitious program. Jonathan is an Education Liaison for the NOS Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and he's the NOAA project coordinator for Ocean for Life.

"The purpose of the event is to bring together students from around the world to show them that they are all connected by the ocean and that they can all make an impact positively in their own communities and in the world for ocean conservation and also better cultural understanding between each of the different countries involved. So by bringing them together and using the ocean as an analogy of a diverse group of ecosystems connected together and dependent upon each other, we can raise through the different youth media projects that the students are doing awareness of the sense of place and the interconnectedness that we all share through our connection to the ocean and each other on how we can better work together to save this ocean planet and to build that sense of community that we need in this world."

When we reached Jonathan in the morning, he was in Key Largo at MarineLab, a education and adventure center for students and educators run by the non-profit Marine Resources Development Foundation. Parts of the student field studies in Florida are being held at MarineLab, and parts at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

"Right now, we're at the Marine Lab here in Key Largo and what we do is we have small boats that the kids will go out to snorkel on the reefs, to see sea grass habitat, see coral reef restoration, and also see wrecks. In the mornings, we'll have scientific lectures about each of the different areas the kids will be going to see given by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary staff as well as the Marine Lab staff with the Marine Resource Development Foundation."

These studies are being used to raise awareness of the importance of resources in the ocean, and to spur the students to draw comparisons with their own unique local and regional environments. The kids will take what they learn to produce video and photography projects with help from staff from the National Geographic Photo Camp and graduate students from the American University's Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

"So out of these experiences for both the Florida and the California field studies, we're working to have the kids produce youth media projects. One still photo, slideshow and another video project, and the video project, there's going to be three of them focused on each of our different themes: interconnectedness, a sense of place, and ocean conservation and stewardship."

Jonathan said that the oceans – and the nation's marine sanctuaries – are natural venues to explore these themes.

"It gives people a common ground, a common basis, to start their interactions afterwards. Taking in this beautiful natural environment that some of them may be seeing for the first time, even folks that live in the U.S., and getting to know it more in-depth and realizing what sort of treasures we have here, and then being able to take that back to their home countries and to their home states so that they can realize what they really have work to protect back home, and the natural marine sanctuaries, because they're mandated to do both science and research into how we can help conserve these special places, as well as doing the education and outreach to inform people about these special places makes it a perfect venue to bring kids in and get them excited about ocean conservation and stewardship and give them a neutral environment to work together and learn together and do these collaborative projects."

One unique thing about the program is that it doesn't end with the on-scene field experience. In Florida, as in the upcoming field study in California, the high school kids are going to take what they learned back to their homes and continue the education and outreach process.

"What we're going to be doing here in Florida is they're going to have early morning classes and then they're going to put into action, hands-on, out on the reef, and see what exactly they learned about. And get that chance to experience the resource in it's environment and show through their media project how exactly they're interacting with it, how it's affecting them and the other students, and we're going to put all that together at the end of the program and use it as outreach tools for the kids once they return home and then, as part of the continuing education program, the kids are going to give lessons in their home communities about what they learned here, and also start to work on media projects in their own communities to help expose the folks that they were at camp with as well as other people around the world to their special places back home, and how their community interacts."

Before we let Jonathan go and get back to the kids, we asked him how he thought it was going so far.

"It's been tough getting them to bed, as you can tell I'm somewhat tired, but they're having a great time, they're really excited about all the different activities they're going to get to be doing. We were going over the orientation last night about all this stuff – they're going to be doing some kayaking, some snorkeling, and some of the different science lectures, as well as the work with the media projects, and the kids were really excited. Everyone's been really excited and getting along great together, so it's great to see, really. Just to get out of the way and let the kids be kids and enjoy this great environment."

"It's just been amazing to see how kids from Pakistan and Morocco and Lebanon, and kids from Wisconsin, Washington, and Florida, Hawaii, and Virginia, and many other places have been able to get together. You know, it's like they really haven't missed a beat. They're just being kids and seeing the wonder in their eyes about the different activities they're able to do, it's been fantastic for me. So I just love that aspect of it."


Many thanks to NOAA's Jonathan Shannon for talking with us about this new program. Jonathan is an Education Liaison for the NOS Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and he's the NOAA project coordinator for Ocean for Life.

If you want to learn more, you can visit And visit our Web site at to read a feature story about Ocean for Life, complete with all the Web links you need to explore this topic further.

The Ocean for Life program is a partnership between NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the 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, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Camp S.E.A. Lab and MarineLab. Other supporters include NASA, Headlands Institute and the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association. Sponsors and donors include the EllMar Foundation, Able Body Labor, Pro Dive, and Aqua Lung. The U.S. Department of State provided diplomatic and consular support, and the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies provided consultation support.

Now let's leave Jonathan with the last word…

"We're trying to establish these links and these connections between the students showing them how they're all linked to the ocean and how the ocean all links them and how they're all linked together so when it comes time for making those hard decisions on environmental matters or to increase the goodwill across countries, that they know, 'I've met somebody from that country. It's a good country, and they were a good person,' and they can have that as a common ground or basis for cooperation"

'It's just really exciting to see. It doesn't have to just stop with Ocean for Life. There are all sorts of other programs that we can do to reach out to these kids and start working on tomorrow's leaders so we can help give them the planet they deserve.

Well, thanks for joining us this week. If you have any questions about the podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean, visit us at or send us an email at

Now let's bring in the ocean....

This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.