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Making Waves: Episode 28 (June 10, 2009)

… Today, we’re going to talk about a new campaign that launches this week that will bring together students in communities around the country to learn about our waterways, forests and oceans through hands-on art projects and interactive science exhibits.

And to talk about the campaign, about the importance of conservation, and about how art and science can work together to inspire young people to protect our environment … we’re privileged to have a very special guest. Stay tuned to hear from world-renowned environmental marine life artist Wyland.

It's Wednesday, June 10th, and this is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service

This week’s podcast falls right in between two special days. On Monday, June 8th, the U.N. marked the first official observance of World Oceans Day. And on Saturday, June 13th, it’s National Get Outdoors Day, a new annual event to encourage people to get out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors.

Well, a new five-year campaign kicks off this week that ties these two themes together – it’s a project sponsored by the nonprofit Wyland Foundation, NOAA, the National Aquarium, and the U.S. Forest Service called FOCUS -- that’s short for Forests, Oceans, Climate and Us. The kickoff for the campaign is tomorrow, June 11th, on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

We recently spoke with Wyland on the phone at the offices of the Wyland Foundation in California.

You may know the work of the artist Wyland without even realizing it. For nearly three decades, he’s been painting larger-than-life, huge murals of whales and dolphins and other sea life on the sides of buildings, on walls, and on ceilings in cities all over the U.S.

And during this time, he’s has also been on a mission to bring art and science together at events around the world to teach young people the value of protecting and preserving the world’s oceans, waterways, and marine life. Here’s Wyland on the convergence between art and science, the focus of the new FOCUS campaign:

[Wyland] “You know there’s no greater reward than to see the kids getting the message, and using art and science together is so powerful. And the feedback I’m getting is that, not only from the kids but from the teachers, is that art is such a key aspect of creating citizens that think differently, that have a wider view if you will. And then when you bring the cause related elements in – the conservation piece -- it’s magic. And when it all comes together, when these kids all come together and paint their vision of clean water and healthy oceans, and beautiful forests that we need to protect, it’s a wonder, and it’s inspirational, not only for kids and the schools, but for everyone who sees the art that will be created in this FOCUS event. ”

At the kickoff event, hundreds of students from the DC area will join Wyland to paint murals that explore our watersheds from the forests to the sea and issues tied to climate change. Wyland said the project is about showing kids how important it is to protect our oceans, our forests, our air, and our waterways – and it’s about getting kids to understand how the water on our planet is what connects it all together …

[Wyland] “Well, the greatest thing about it is, this is a very creative way to engage young people with the message of clean water and conservation, and the timing couldn’t be better. The UN has proclaimed 2005-2015 a decade for water, water for life. And this is the very first time for NOAA and the US Forest Service to work together with our other conservation partners and bring the message of art and science in a very creative way. When you engage people on this level, and you use art and science, it makes an impression, and once that conservation message is implanted in the minds and hearts of young people, you’re creating youth ambassadors for the planet.”

[Wyland] “This is going to be a nationwide campaign, challenging all the schools, all the churches, all the organizations and museums to come together and take this challenge to paint the forests to the sea as a theme, and to focus on issues regarding water—the forests, the oceans, the reefs, and what’s going to happen here is you’re going to empower these kids to think creatively outside the box.”

The idea of using art and science to inspire kids to care about the environment is something that Wyland has been working on for many decades. He said his original inspiration was Jacques Costeau, whose underwater documentaries got him thinking at an early age about what he could do to help conservation of oceans and whales and marine life. He talked with us about what he hopes to accomplish with his art:

[Wyland] “I hope to use my art to inspire people in kind of a creative way to get involved, to use their art to bring the message, and science has always been critical in everything I do. By working with scientists like Dr. Sylvia Earle and Bob Ballard and Eugenie Clark and all these great scientists, the idea is that I can take all that knowledge and share it forward with young people, and that’s what we really need to do, that’s, I think, our mission as a nation, to share what we know with young people. If you’re going to create a sea change, if you’re going to create an environmental renaissance in the 21st century, you got to get young people involved, because they’re the future and if you spend any amount of time with kids like I do, I’ve painted with over a million kids in the last 30 years, you understand their passion in protecting the environment and the water issue is going to be one of the most critical and important issues of our day, of this entire century. So we need to get in front of it and I believe art is the one element that can really engage people in a way that makes a lasting impression.”

In addition to falling between World Oceans Day and National Get Outdoors Day, the June 11th kickoff event in the Nation’s capital also happens to be the birthday of Jacques Costeau … and Wyland, said, it also marks the beginning of a special partnership:

[Wyland] “Ironically, on June 11th, that’s Jacques Costeau’s birthday, so we celebrate Capt. Costeau, and this is really historic in that these two groups, it’s the very first time. Usually NOAA focuses on oceans and water issues, and Foresty, of course, focuses on forests, but they also have always been focused on water because to have a healthy forest you’ve got to have pure water. The critical thing here is, clean water and healthy oceans are not only important to forests, fish, and animals, they’re important to us. They’re tied directly to our health.”

[Wyland] “In the last century, groups like the Costeau society and Greenpeace and other groups, you know they would go out and do their campaigns, but in this century it’s all about partnering together, it’s all about conservation partners and government, and other organizations working together for the big picture. The big picture is that we’re all connected by the environment, our environment, and water connects all the people in all the countries of the world and we need to protect every drop. So this is really exciting to see the Forest Service coming together with NOAA and our other conservation partners in an effort to creatively share the message of conservation with kids throughout the nation – I’m very excited and very honored to be part of it.”

Once again, the campaign is called FOCUS - Forests, Oceans, Climate and Us. The kickoff for the campaign is tomorrow, June 11th, at the People’s Garden on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The FOCUS program centers around bringing together kids to paint community murals with Wyland, but that’s not all. There’s also an exhibit called Water’s Extreme Journey -- a 1000 square foot interactive watershed maze -- and a mobile learning center called the Clean Water Challenge. And participants will learn about cutting edge science with experts from NOAA and the U.S. Forest Service. And if you want to bring a FOCUS event to your community, you can contact the Wyland Foundation at 858-212-9587.

Special thanks to environmental marine life artist Wyland for taking the time to speak with us. Let’s leave Wyland with the last word:

[Wyland] “You know you can’t do everything, but what you can do is focus on what will have the biggest impact. What the Wyland Foundation felt was that by kids united for conservation through art and science, that that would leave a legacy that would last for generations. And with our conservation partners, and the beautiful U.S. Forest Service who are doing a wonderful job, and NOAA, who I’ve worked with for many years, and all the aquariums and science centers – we could have a huge impact here with this FOCUS program for many years to come.”

Surf over to our Web site for links to more information about the FOCUS campaign. We’re at

That’s all for this episode. If you have any questions about this week’s podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean, send us an email at

Let’s bring in the ocean....

This is Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service. See you next week.