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Alliance gets award for ocean literacy

Posted: Wednesday, Apr 21st, 2010

Shawn Rowe (third from left), a marine education and free choice learning specialist at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, leads a tour of the center Saturday afternoon. The group included (from left) State Rep. Jean Cowan (D-Newport), Oregon Coast Aquarium President Gary Gamer, and Virginia Tippie, director of Coastal America, a partnership of federal agencies, state and local governments, and private organizations working to protect the nation’s coasts. (Photo by Terry Dillman)

Sea Grant, aquarium, schools receive highest honor

“Ocean literacy” is an understanding of the ocean’s influence on people, and peoples’ influence on the ocean.

Five years ago, discussions began among folks from the Oregon Sea Grant education program at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), Oregon Coast Aquarium (OCA), and the Lincoln County School District, with an initial goal to simply help local students become the most “ocean literate” in the nation.

Since then, the partnership has grown to include more than a dozen local, state, federal, and university agencies and organizations, and the network is expanding to encompass the entire Pacific Northwest. Known as the Ocean Conservation and Education Alliance Northwest (OCEAN), the effort now aims to unite organizations with strong marine science education programs to focus on ocean science literacy not just in K-12 schools, but in public venues like HMSC.

Those efforts are paying dividends and gaining national attention. The proof took center stage at HMSC’s Hennings Auditorium Saturday afternoon, when OCEAN received a 2009 Coastal America Partnership (CAP) Award - the highest level of national recognition for collaborative efforts that combine resources to accomplish coastal restoration, preservation, protection, and education projects.

Coastal America (CA) is itself a partnership of federal agencies, state and local governments, and private organizations working together “to protect, preserve, and restore our nation’s coast,” said Director Virginia K. Tippie.

She said OCEAN got the nod for “efforts to bring together a network of innovative educator to engage students and inspire ocean science literacy.”


Since 1968, the Oregon Sea Grant program has provided informal activities at Hatfield, and currently manages the visitor center, which attracts more than 125,000 people each year. The aquarium, located a few hundred yards south of HMSC, draws about 500,000 visitors each year.

In May 2005, Hatfield and aquarium leaders signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on public research, education, and outreach efforts.

Thousands of students visit both facilities each year on field trips. By collaborating on programming, exhibits, and field trips, Hatfield and aquarium leaders believed they could greatly enhance those students’ experiences during their visits to the central Oregon coast.

Representatives of the two facilities signed another historic agreement in June 2005, when they joined with Coastal America to become the first-ever co-designated Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center.

Coastal America first established a network of Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers (CELC) in 1996 to combine the resources of federal agencies and marine education centers like HMSC, which first received CELC designation in 1998. The cooperative venture gives marine centers access to expert speakers, exhibit information, educational publications, teaching materials, field trip sites, and scientific data from throughout the nation.

Adding on

The network aims to unite organizations with strong marine science education programs to focus on ocean science literacy in K-12 schools, and among the general public. The partnership wants to nurture children’s inherent scientific curiosity, using “the multi-disciplinary allure of the ocean” to teach science, technology, math, and engineering concepts, as well as create development opportunities to support teachers and marine science professionals to further the effort.

The CAP award caps those efforts with national recognition.

Tippie and Capt. Rick Brown (Ret.) from NOAA Northwest Fisheries presented an overall award to Oregon Sea Grant Director Stephen Brandt and Oregon Coast Aquarium President Gary Gamer. Individual accolades went to Nancee Hunter, sea grant’s director of education at Hatfield; Kerry Carlin-Morgan, the aquarium’s director of education; Tom Gaskill, education program coordinator at the South Slough Marine Estuarine Research Reserve; Trish Mace, who takes the marine science curriculum to K-6 students on the southern Oregon coast through the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; and Tom Rinearson, superintendent of the Lincoln County School District.

“To engage this level of educational partnership requires someone to step forward and turn vision into action,” said Gamer in talking about the OCEAN partnership. He cited HMSC director George Boehlert, Rinearson, and Carlin-Morgan as the three who were instrumental in taking initial ideas and “making partnerships happen.”

‘Extraordinary initiative’

The school district in its strategic plan has committed to making local students “the most ocean literate” in the nation, and Rinearson has played a major in engaging the teachers in marine science education.

Gamer said the partnership is “building a new community of learning” and noted “some wonderful education models and processes” in the works. “The task is to identify, correlate, and set them loose to show how they work,” he added.

HMSC has shown how they can work for more than 40 years, and along with OCA and other partners, are enhancing those long-standing educational efforts.

Brown called OCEAN “an extraordinary initiative” that strives to nurture students’ inherent scientific interest.

“You can’t be passionate about something if you’re not aware of it,” he noted. “It really impresses folks more if it’s hands-on. Your work is being recognized at the highest level of NOAA and the Commerce Department.”

And in public.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at (541) 265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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