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Diving Deeper: Volunteering with our National Marine Sanctuaries

Episode 40 (July 19, 2012)

HOST: Welcome to Diving Deeper where we interview National Ocean Service scientists on the ocean topics and information that are important to you! I'm your host Kate Nielsen.

Today we will continue our discussion on an earlier question - How can I volunteer with our national marine sanctuaries?

Today's episode will connect you with sanctuary staff from different locations to explore a few of the many volunteer opportunities.


We will start today's program again with Tracy Hajduk, the National Volunteer Coordinator for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Thanks Tracy for joining us once more to talk about this very important program and the volunteer opportunities that are available for folks.

TRACY HAJDUK: Thanks Kate, glad to be here.

HOST: Tracy, today we're going to talk to volunteer coordinators with the Monterey Bay and Stellwagen Bank national marine sanctuaries. What can you tell us about these sites and some of their volunteer opportunities?

TRACY HAJDUK: Well, these sites are both in pretty urban areas. They have a lot of people living nearby them and a lot of people using their sanctuaries. And in terms of their volunteer programs, they actually do have a little bit of difference. Monterey Bay has been able to have volunteer programs going for quite a long time and they have these great, solid programs that are really engaging with the community and having community members collect data on water quality, they have visitor centers that you're going to hear about later on in the episode.

And Stellwagen Bank is right by the city of Boston, which is a huge urban area with people constantly using the waterways, and their volunteer programs are at this great cusp of expansion. They've had volunteer programs in the past, but they've really been able to do a lot just in the past year or so and really start to engage the community more. So it's a really exciting time where we have these wonderful programs that have been going, but we also always have new programs. And you'll hear from both of the volunteer coordinators about new stuff that's always happening at the sanctuaries that are working to get more volunteers involved.

HOST: Great, sounds good. I'm looking forward to getting these folks on the phone. Tracy, for all the sanctuary sites, not just those that we will speak with today, do folks tend to serve or volunteer for shorter periods of time, maybe just a few days here and there, or do your volunteers tend to really dedicate time year after year to support the sanctuaries?

TRACY HAJDUK: This again does depend on the site and also the project. A lot of our sanctuaries do have one-day events and some of these are actually some of our biggest volunteer programs, for instance, in Hawaii, we have the Sanctuary Ocean Count, and they have three days over a month time period where they get 1,000 volunteers to come out and help them count whales and they're recording behavior. It's a huge event, the community's really engaged with it, but it's basically a one-day event. Olympic Coast has a beach cleanup that's similar. They partner with a lot of other organizations, but again they get over 1,000 volunteers, kind of this army of people coming out to the beach and cleaning up and have a huge impact.

Those are some of our one-day events where we have folks, but we also have programs that people come throughout the year, they might come once a month or once a week even. We have some people who volunteer, we had someone just this past year who was volunteering over 100 times, he was out on the Channel Islands. So that was just an amazing amount of time if you think about it, almost every three days he's out there volunteering for us. And we have had volunteers that have been with us for a really long time. Again, Channel Islands has a couple of volunteers who have been with us for over 20 years. So, it's really impressive. We've had some great volunteers who've stayed with us and we have ones who do one shot and we hope they'll come back sometime.

HOST: Are there volunteer opportunities at some of the sites where students can get credit for school?

TRACY HAJDUK: Yeah, we really try and work a lot with students and youth because volunteering is a great way to get experience. A lot of people if you ask got their start or figured out if they do or do not like things because they may have been volunteering. So we really try to work with both high school students and college students a lot to get them to volunteer. And we sometimes just have them come and they're volunteers and other times they actually are part of a program where they're getting credit with the school or the university. We've worked with AmeriCorps and Job Corps students before. Just again, really trying to get students the skills that they need that's 1) going to get them engaged with the sanctuary, which we love to do, 2) the students enjoy it, we enjoy working with the students and it's really a great resume builder and experience builder for them that they can use as they're starting out their career.

HOST: That's fantastic that there's so many opportunities for students too through your volunteer programs. Are your volunteers, not just students, but all volunteers, are they recognized in some way for their efforts?

TRACY HAJDUK: Absolutely. Recognition is one of the things we really focus on with our volunteers because we can't do what we do without them and we want to make sure that we show them that appreciation and have them understand how important they are to us. So, there's a lot of different levels of recognition. All of our sites have their own internal site based recognition and that varies per site. Sometimes they do a small awards ceremony or they'll even have maybe a pot luck dinner where they just get together and appreciate the work that they've done for the year.

We do also have a national recognition program where we have pins for years of service and I mentioned again we've had some volunteers that have been here for 20 years so we have pins that volunteers can actually earn as they volunteer with us to get, we have a 3, 5, a 10, and a 20 year pin. We've had wonderful feedback, the volunteers are really proud of the pins, they wear them, showing off their service.

Another really neat recognition program we have, and this is thanks to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, is we have something called the Volunteer of the Year, which the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation hosts and each site is able to nominate one volunteer. The Foundation selects a winner. One of the main events during that week is what's called the Leadership Awards Dinner. And we actually recognize our Volunteer of the Year at this ceremony. There's a few other awards that are given out that night such as a Lifetime Achievement Award, and some past recipients have been former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh, who was one of the first men to go into the Marianas Trench back in the 60s. So, these are really big names in ocean conservation and ocean action and the fact that our volunteer is recognized beside them on stage that night is a huge deal for us. So, we're really thankful to the Foundation for being able to support them.

HOST: Very nice way to reach out and say thank you, that's for sure. So Tracy, for those listening today who don't live close to a national marine sanctuary (or maybe don't even live close to the coast), can they volunteer in some way and help out?

TRACY HAJDUK: We always stress for people to volunteer in whatever capacity they can. Again, we've talked about this a little bit in the previous episode, but a great resource that I always love to talk about is If you're not close enough to a sanctuary, just get out and get connected with your local community, it really helps people feel engaged with the community and with the environment, and it's just a win-win situation for everybody. We always encourage people to find some way that they can help out and if you look, I'm pretty sure you'll find something nearby.


HOST: Thanks again Tracy for coming in today and answering some of our questions and helping us kick off this episode. So let's move out to the West Coast and interview Lisa Emanuelson by phone today. Lisa is a volunteer coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Hi Lisa, welcome to our show.

LISA EMANUELSON: Thanks so much Kate for having me here.

HOST: Lisa, first, can you tell us a little bit about the sanctuary site that you work at?

LISA EMANUELSON: Well I work at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, out on the west coast. We're almost 300 shoreline miles extending from the Marin Headlands down to Cambria in the south. And it's just an amazing site where we have underwater canyons and huge kelp forests. With such a large site, we just have so many different habitats that we're working to protect and so it's just an amazing, amazing place. One of the incredible spots within our sanctuary is the Davidson seamount, which is an underwater extinct volcano. And it's offshore of our sanctuary, it's sort of a little postage stamp offshore of our sanctuary's shoreline boundary. And it's just an incredible place where we can see deep sea corals and deep sponges, just an amazing, amazing place.

HOST: Sounds very cool and quite a diverse place and an important resource to preserve.

LISA EMANUELSON: Absolutely and it's one of those things where most of the residents along our shoreline don't always know what's out there. So part of our job is to help them to know what's there.

HOST: So Lisa, can you tell us about the types of activities that your volunteers are supporting?

LISA EMANUELSON: Absolutely. Our volunteers do such an incredible diversity of activities and I just feel so fortunate to work with so many folks that are so engaged in the sanctuary. Some of our volunteers are involved in our water quality monitoring programs. So they are out there testing and monitoring the quality of water that's flowing into the sanctuary - either through creeks and rivers or actually through urban areas and storm drains, which of course all of that flows into the sanctuary and can impact the quality of water within the sanctuary itself.

Other volunteers that we have are doing a program called Beach Combers where they are out there walking beaches looking for dead marine birds and marine mammals. And it might seem kind of like a gruesome job, which in some cases it can be, but it's really important information because there might be activities or different impacts that are happening out in the sanctuary that we don't see except for the fact that it's impacting the wildlife. And so, by monitoring the wildlife that's washing up on the beaches, we have an opportunity to see what might be happening out in the sanctuary.

And then our last sort of group of volunteers are actually docents. And we have different types of docent activities. One group is our BayNet shoreline naturalist program and they are along the shoreline here in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Santa Cruz, and Moss Landing, and they talk to visitors about the local wildlife. And they have binoculars set up on tripods and they just show folks some of the local wildlife and talk to them about it. Other volunteers we have are out on kayaks talking to local visitors, also on kayaks, about the local wildlife that we have and approaching that wildlife too closely, which in some cases can be very damaging for things like sea otters and harbor seals. They tend to be really shy, they tend to need their rest, and if we are always approaching them, it's hard for them because they always have to try and get away from us. So we try and educate kayakers and boaters and other folks, try and educate them about proper wildlife viewing.

Our last group of volunteers are our docents within our visitor centers. We have a visitor center down in Cambria and then we also have a brand new visitor center that's opening up in July of 2012 and that's going to be in Santa Cruz. And so we have docents that are there helping to interpret the exhibits and also to educate folks about the sanctuary through our visitor centers.

HOST: Lisa, you mentioned that your volunteers are involved in water quality monitoring. Can you tell us more about that?

LISA EMANUELSON: Sure, our water quality volunteers are some folks that go out and help us throughout the whole, entire year. During the dry weather, we monitor storm drain outfalls for common urban pollutants like detergents, ammonia, phosphates, and chlorine. And that's through a program that we have called Urban Watch. We do it in Monterey and Pacific Grove and it helps us to track what are common urban pollutants that might be reaching the ocean and trying to detect where they could be coming from. We work with our local cities to help them figure out what's the quality of water in their storm drain outfalls and also to help find elicit discharges that will impact the ocean.

We also have programs around our first rainstorm of the year, which is our First Flush program. We have incredible volunteers that go out day or night and monitor storm drain outfalls during the first rainstorm of the year, which is oftentimes at 2:00 in the morning, sometimes it's 2:00 in the afternoon, but most often 2:00 in the morning. So our volunteers will collect water samples that will be tested for metals which are copper, zinc, and lead; bacteria; nutrients; nitrate and phosphate; and also total suspended solids. And this really helps us to figure out, what's the quality of water coming off of our streets, going into the ocean during that first rainstorm of the year.

And then our last water quality program that we have is called Snapshot Day. And it's the first Saturday in May and we have volunteers throughout the sanctuary that go to watersheds and take samples of creeks and rivers and do some basic field measurements. And we test those water samples for things like bacteria and nutrients. And again, it just gives us an idea of what is the quality of water flowing into the sanctuary from our watersheds.

HOST: Lisa, my last question for you today. To give our listeners a flavor of the opportunities that are available to them if they visit the Monterey Bay sanctuary, can you tell us what your favorite recreational activity is within the sanctuary?

LISA EMANUELSON: That's such a hard question because there's so many different things to do here. My husband and I, we love to go kayaking, we go up to the Elkhorn Slough to go kayaking, we kayak along Cannery Row in Monterey. There's great surfing here which I love to do, up in Santa Cruz as well as down in Moss Landing. This is just an amazing place to see wildlife. There's plenty of whale watching boats that go out and there's just great places to view wildlife. Just walking along the coastal trails can be an incredible experience. You can see whales from the trails, you can see birds, you can see sea otters, you can see harbor seals. There's just so much here, it's hard to pick just one.


HOST: Thanks Lisa for that overview on these great volunteer opportunities at Monterey Bay. Now, let's head back over to the east coast and talk, again by phone, to Anne-Marie Runfola about the volunteer opportunities at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Hi Anne-Marie, welcome to our show.

ANNE-MARIE RUNFOLA: Hi, thank you, it's nice to be here.

HOST: Anne-Marie, can you tell us about the mission or the purpose of your sanctuary and where exactly you're located?

ANNE-MARIE RUNFOLA: Well, first, I'm going to start with the name. It's a really long one, but it's got some historic significance. It's the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and it's named after both the U.S. Navy Lt. who first mapped the bank and the U.S. Congressman who supported the designation in 1992 so we're celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, I just wanted to get that out there. And our sanctuary is 842 square miles of open ocean, about the size of Rhode Island. It's out in the open ocean, it doesn't touch land, it's between Cape Ann and Cape Cod along the coast, just three miles off of each Cape, but approximately 23 miles from Boston.

And it's a really unique place, we sometimes call it the urban sanctuary. It's a major commercial shipping hub, it's an historic fishing ground, and it's one of the best places in the world to see whales. It's also designated as an important bird area which I'll talk more about later. And our mission is to protect and conserve the sanctuary's resources - we have marine mammals and the biodiversity, so life from the sea floor to sea birds - so from the bottom all the way up to the air. And our maritime heritage, we have identified and found at least 40 shipwrecks and counting.

So all that while performing this balancing act to try and facilitate and manage compatible use. So we call it, it's like the three-legged stool - so we've got marine mammals, biodiversity, and maritime heritage and we also have all these other activities happening in the sanctuary, so trying to coordinate and manage all that while protecting the resources. And the sanctuary's a hugely productive area, I like to say it's like one of the biggest food courts in one of the biggest airports in the world, we've got fish and whales and seabirds coming in from everywhere to eat along the bank.

HOST: Thanks Anne-Marie, it sounds like quite a mission and you all are very busy. Can you briefly explain to us the kinds of volunteer opportunities available at Stellwagen Bank?

ANNE-MARIE RUNFOLA: Yeah, first just to say that because our sanctuary doesn't touch land, it has some really unique challenges as far as trying to connect people with the sanctuary and actually help them visualize it, help them understand it and feel connected with it, so the volunteer program is a really important part of that, especially since we can't get all the volunteers out in the sanctuary itself since it's so far off land.

The first program I started last year is the Stellwagen Sanctuary Ambassadors and that's our docent program. So people who will help interpret what's out there in the sanctuary, why it's so cool, and get people excited about the resource in their backyard. And then a subset of that are volunteers that are really interested in educational programming and we started a program called A Child's Sanctuary.

And then we have a seabird monitoring program using citizen scientists and we have an internship program primarily for college students and above, but we have worked with a couple high school students as well and that's growing. We're just about to start a Marine Mammal Observer Corps, which is a group of observers who will come out on our research vessel when we're doing research to make sure that we spot and avoid marine mammals while we're out there in the sanctuary.

HOST: Thanks Anne-Marie, so let's talk about a few of the programs that you just mentioned. What can you tell us about the seabird monitoring program?

ANNE-MARIE RUNFOLA: Our program, the Stellwagen Sanctuary Seabird Stewards, we call it S4 for short, has three major goals. We're working in collaboration with Mass Audubon and the idea's to expand the study of seabirds in the sanctuary and the three major goals are to systematically collect baseline data on seabirds within sanctuary boundaries using both our research vessel, the Auk, and vessels of opportunity, such as whale watch vessels, to compare populations over time. We also want to educate the public about seabirds and connect residents with their sanctuary and we want to train a group of observers to join scientists in this ground-breaking project.

HOST: And you mentioned another program called A Child's Sanctuary, can you tell us more about that?

ANNE-MARIE RUNFOLA: Yes, so when I first started at the sanctuary, we had lots of requests for educational opportunities to work with the kids and their parents. And so I went to the local library and developed a series of educational events that would be led by volunteers, first targeting pre-Kindergarten through upper elementary school students and their parents through events on weekends.

So we train our volunteers to share information about the bank and the National Marine Sanctuary Program. And we also developed a cadre of teen ambassadors to help run the program. We started by cross-training the local libraries' youth volunteers and then started working with some volunteers through the schools. And we've had more than 1,000 parents and children have participated in the six events we've run so far. We're just having our first volunteers who are going to lead these programs now without me even there, going out into their own schools and their own communities.

HOST: It sounds like a great concept and that it's really, really taking off right now. For all of these different volunteer programs, not just A Child's Sanctuary and the seabird program, do you have an estimate of how many people you've reached?

ANNE-MARIE RUNFOLA: We're up to about 60 regular volunteers, we just started in earnest last year, plus we have others who help with occasional events, etc. And those volunteers have given over 6,000 hours so far in the last year. And we've estimated that we've reached over 45,000 people directly and countless numbers indirectly through the volunteer activities. So from marching in a really popular St. Patrick's Day parade in Scituate where our headquarters is located to making blubber gloves with kids at a festival to stewards presenting on seabirds as part of a lecture series.

HOST: Very impressive numbers. So finally Anne-Marie, what is your favorite part of your job as the volunteer coordinator at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary?

ANNE-MARIE RUNFOLA: Wow, do I get more than one answer? I'm thrilled to be part of this. It's such a great resource and I'm so impressed with what my colleagues are doing. And I'm also really impressed with the diversity and depth of talent of the volunteers and their generosity. We have a regular volunteer who ran her own software company before retiring and moving out here and she's so intellectually curious and so talented and so sharp and wants to use her skills to help the sanctuary and promote the work that we're doing. So that to me, I'm just constantly impressed by what people have to offer and I learn from them, they make me look good.

I have to say one more is being in the position to provide opportunities to both youth and adults. We just had a college student who just finished up and she was an intern with us last year and because of the work she did with us, she was able to get a job in Hawaii as a naturalist and so really helping her advance her career and figure out what she wanted to do and get some concrete experience with a great organization, that's no small thing to be able to offer. And with our retirees and our youth, being able to give them an opportunity to feel like they're involved in their own community and really make a difference.

HOST: Thanks Anne-Marie for taking a few minutes today to talk to us about the volunteer opportunities at Stellwagen Bank. And now to close out this episode, I'd like to go back to Tracy for just one final question. Tracy, we talked today, a little bit about the history of the sanctuaries, what do you see in the future for your volunteer program?

TRACY HAJDUK: Well, as I was talking about before, our programs are always expanding, always getting bigger and better. We're at a very exciting time for national marine sanctuaries, this year we're actually celebrating our 40th anniversary and we've been looking back at some of the major accomplishments we've done throughout the past 40 years and it's really amazing to see what we've done in the past and it's so exciting to think about what we're going to accomplish in the future - the impacts we'll have on the environments and the communities where these sanctuaries are.

Another big milestone that we saw for the sanctuaries this past year was we actually reached 1,000,000 hours of volunteer time. That was a huge accomplishment for our volunteers and we're so excited to reach the next milestone in that aspect. We're always growing bigger and better, we're always looking out to reach new partners and new communities and we're really excited about, we've been thinking a lot recently about how can we expand our message and how can we think outside the box. New volunteer programs and just engaging new people has really been a big push of ours right now. So, it's a very exciting time for sanctuaries.

HOST: Thanks Tracy, Lisa, and Anne-Marie for joining us on Diving Deeper and talking about the volunteer opportunities for our listeners at the national marine sanctuaries. To learn more about these and other volunteer opportunities, please visit

That's all for today's show. Remember, if you have questions on this episode or the National Ocean Service in general, you can contact us at And if you're on social media, don't forget you can find us, it's usoceangov, on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. Please join us for our next episode in two weeks.