Eight Ways to Support Marine Sanctuaries During National Ocean Month

By Chloe McKenna, Claire Cutler, and Kristi Ryono

May 2024

As young women with a desire to protect our blue planet, we (Chloe, Claire, and Kristi) each joined NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries education team while living on different coastlines of the country. Now, we work as a team sharing the importance of protecting the ocean with members of the next generation. As National Ocean Month approaches, we’re joining forces to share ways that other young people across the country can take action to protect national marine sanctuaries and be a voice for the ocean.

We know that the constant inundation of negative information about the current and future health of the planet is nothing short of overwhelming, especially for young people. When you look at the news or open social media, it is almost guaranteed that you will find dire news about the state of the planet. In this article, we challenge you to stay optimistic and motivated, and offer some positive actions you can take to support ocean conservation from anywhere. Our voices and actions—collectively and individually—are powerful.

(Left to Right) Chloe McKenna, Claire Cutler, and Kristi Ryono
(Left to Right) Chloe McKenna, Claire Cutler, and Kristi Ryono

The theme of this year’s World Ocean Day on June 8 is “Catalyzing Action for our Ocean and Climate.” Earth’s climate and the ocean are inextricably linked, and the health of each depends on the other. Throughout the month of June, young people across the globe are working together to advocate for a healthy ocean. Join us!

Here’s how you can support national marine sanctuaries and monuments during National Ocean Month:

1. Increase your ocean and climate literacy:

Understanding climate change and the threat that it poses to our ocean is a critical first step to advocating for and protecting our planet. The Seven Principles of Ocean Literacy help us understand our connection to the ocean, and are a great place to begin learning about the ocean.

Dig into activities and lessons in the Exploring Ocean Mysteries curriculum, a series of 17 lessons that use the National Marine Sanctuary System as an engaging backdrop that helps students understand their importance for exploration, research, Indigenous cultures and more. You can also learn about how blue carbon ecosystems, including ones found in your national marine sanctuaries, can help address climate change in the Blue Carbon Resource Collection.

students using sampling equipment to test water quality
NOAA lesson plans allow you to explore the natural world through science and investigation. Photo: Alicia Telfer

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has also created games, videos, and activities that allow you to explore your National Marine Sanctuary System no matter where you are. Take a virtual dive with green sea turtles in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, or hear directly from a marine ecologist about what it took to pursue her career.

Check out more national marine sanctuaries educational resources for students.

2. Make your voice heard:

The National Marine Sanctuaries Act allows NOAA to identify, designate, and protect areas of the ocean and Great Lakes environment with special national significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archaeological, educational, or aesthetic qualities as national marine sanctuaries.

Currently, there are six designations in progress, and you have the opportunity to use your voice and take part in the public process. The following sites are in the designation stage:

a map of the national marine sanctuary system
The National Marine Sanctuary System. Image: NOAA

Hoku Kaʻaekuahiwi Pousima is the regional policy analyst for the Pacific Islands Region, and she is currently playing an important role in the public sanctuary designation processes taking place around Hawaii and the Central Pacific. According to Hoku, public participation is a critical step to receive input on potential boundaries, resource protection issues, and cultural considerations pertaining to the sanctuary.

NOAA invites people of all ages and backgrounds to come together to weigh in on sanctuary designations.

“I would love to see the youth in our community be more involved in decisions being made for our places and our resources,” says Hoku. “I believe one of the main reasons I am effective in my role with NOAA is because I am a community member. It's important to have folks in the agency who walk and talk like our communities, think like our communities, and look like our communities. This is really critical in place-based management because we are raising the next generation of stewards and inspiring youth to see themselves in these roles.”

Whether you live in a sanctuary community or care about a special place from afar, you can be part of this public process this National Ocean Month. Learn more about upcoming public comment periods where you can make your voice heard about potential new sanctuary sites.

3. Attend Capitol Hill Ocean Week (June 4-6):

Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) is the nation’s premier ocean and Great Lakes policy conference that convenes policymakers, scientists, managers, business leaders, conservationists, educators, students, and members of the public to engage in dialogue and debate on significant issues that impact our ocean and Great Lakes and to propose innovative policies and partnerships to address these issues.

The theme this year is ocean leadership, and the annual event hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation calls upon leaders from all walks of life to come together to drive attention and innovation to protect our ocean and center people at the core of ocean solutions. People of all ages across the nation are invited to attend the free event and be a part of the conversation.

4. Spread ocean optimism:

Maintaining optimism about the future of our ocean and our climate is essential to building a generation of informed ocean ambassadors. This month, share what you love about national marine sanctuaries with #OceanMonthNOAA. Let others know: Why does the ocean matter to you? Why are our national marine sanctuaries so important? What does protecting the ocean mean to you?

a person scuba diving with an overlay of a thought bubble that has a quote that reads these local treasures should be protected at all costs
Photo: NOAA

For over 50 years, the National Marine Sanctuary System has been celebrating and protecting some of our ocean’s most unique ecosystems and locations.

National marine sanctuaries and monuments are protected marine areas that include important and unique habitats, cultural resources, and geologic features. They are living laboratories where scientists conduct groundbreaking research that will help endangered wildlife and inform our response to climate change. Sanctuaries also protect areas for habitat restoration projects of critical ecosystems, including blue carbon ecosystems that can help address climate change.

These special places are also natural classrooms that students and teachers can explore and learn about together, and allow people across the country to experience and enjoy our ocean. National marine sanctuaries help us play outside, learn about marine life, admire the beauty of nature, and breathe fresh air.

an adult and child gaze at a lighthouse in the distance
National marine sanctuaries are places to connect with ourselves, with nature, and with each other. Photo: Matt McIntosh/NOAA
two scuba divers observe coral fragments in an underwater nursery
National marine sanctuaries are living laboratories and proving grounds for large-scale ecosystem restoration projects. Photo: Jay Clue

5. Visit a national marine sanctuary:

National marine sanctuaries offer a unique opportunity to explore America’s underwater parks while building a connection to these special ocean places. From whale watching in Stellwagen Bank to scuba diving in the Florida Keys or paddle boarding in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, there are endless opportunities to explore these sites. Exploring responsibly is essential for both the safety and wellbeing of visitors and wildlife. Please adhere to the Wildlife Viewing Guidelines while visiting a national marine sanctuary.

a girl in a wetsuit wearing a mask and snorkel swims underwater through a kelp forest
Snorkeling through majestic kelp forests and colorful coral reefs is a fantastic way to get into your sanctuary. Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA
a young man squats on a rock and investigates a tidepool
Many national marine sanctuaries offer excellent opportunities for tidepooling—a great way to learn about and observe wildlife responsibly. Photo: Allison Formica/Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest

Although we recommend visiting a national marine sanctuary in person, you can still experience everything it has to offer without getting wet! Sanctuaries 360° offers an immersive virtual reality experience so you can explore the underwater world from the comfort of your own home.

If you do visit a national marine sanctuary or marine national monument this year, be sure to capture your experience and share with us! From May 24, 2024 to September 2, 2024, the annual Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest allows you to share what the ocean and Great Lakes mean to you. View the winning photos of last year’s and previous photo contests.

6. Take part in a community science project:

You can take part in a community science project that will help scientists at NOAA collect essential information. Sometimes referred to as “citizen science,” community science is a type of crowdsourcing, in which community members collect data that researchers can then use to answer big questions. Community science opportunities exist across many NOAA offices, including the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries! You can get involved with community science at NOAA by tracking sightings of marine debris, reporting your local water levels, or sharing your sightings of marine life!

Three volunteers lined up holding clipboards and studying datasheets
A group of volunteers prepares to participate in a submerged aquatic vegetation survey at Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Anthony Burrows/Maryland DNR

Here at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, we rely on the help of volunteers through community science projects throughout the year. Check out this list of sanctuary citizen science projects and see if there are any taking place near you! Depending on where you live, you could help with submerged aquatic vegetation surveys at Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, or support seabird research and monitoring at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. There are even opportunities to participate in citizen science projects remotely!

7. Take individual action to be a steward of your watershed:

While protecting marine sanctuaries may sound like a big undertaking, even small everyday actions can leave a large impact. You don’t have to live near a coastline to protect our national marine sanctuaries and the ocean. No matter where you live, you’re located in a watershed, an area of land that channels snow, rain, and runoff into one body of water. In many cases, your watershed leads into the ocean. The actions you take at home impact your watershed and the ocean.

Here are a few simple actions you can take to protect your watershed:

  1. Conserve water: the less water you use, the less wastewater that will flow into the ocean.
  2. Reduce waste: you can reduce your consumer waste by buying items without packaging, reusing items, and recycling. If you attend a PreK-12 school, consider having your school participate in a Zero Waste Week!
  3. Recreate responsibly: for those who like to recreate on the water, make sure to follow responsible fishing guidelines and safe boating practices to protect yourself and the environment.
  4. Volunteer: you can lend your time to help the ocean by volunteering; whether that is participating in a beach or neighborhood clean-up, educating others about conservation, or taking advantage of NOAA student opportunities!

Learn about more actions you can take to protect coral reefs and help our ocean, whether you live next to one or not!

A Hawaiian woman taking a selfie by the ocean with a thought bubble containing a quote that reads: We descend from the ocean; there is no denying that. We all have responsibility for our home. The health of the ocean is going to directly reflect the health of our communities.
Photo: NOAA

8. Get involved in Ocean Guardian Programs:

NOAA Ocean Guardian Programs encourage children and youth to explore their natural surroundings to form a sense of personal connection to the ocean and/or watersheds in which they live. For students in grades K-8, the NOAA Ocean Guardian Kids Club offers its members an opportunity to express their understanding of their natural environment through creating original stories, poetry, and visual art.

Older youth, ages 13-18, can become a NOAA Ocean Guardian Youth Ambassador. This one-year program looks for young people passionate about the ocean and who want to become environmental leaders at their school or in their community. Ambassadors attend monthly webinars to learn about the National Marine Sanctuary System, NOAA programs and careers, and ocean optimism, and then lead a project or event at their school or in their community that supports ocean conservation and stewardship.

a group of students stand with teachers in a garden next to a wooden box
Brunson Elementary students in North Carolina constructed and maintained a compost bin as part of their Ocean Guardian School project. Photo: NOAA
two boys on a kayak in the ocean
Iker Issac Fuentes Huerta from a California-based Ocean Guardian School says that kayaking in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was one of the best experiences he ever had. Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Victoria Huber is a current NOAA Ocean Guardian Youth Ambassador and high school student in Florida who says that she joined the program to “connect with the opportunities NOAA has for aspiring marine scientists and to meet peers and mentors.” Huber says that the program has empowered her in terms of networking opportunities and her ability to engage the public in marine science, and that it has helped her think about her future career options. Huber feels passionate about her work as a youth ambassador, stating that “the ocean in its entirety is vital to our planet and deserves to be protected.”

NOAA also offers Ocean Guardian Program resources for dive shops and schools to educate and engage youth in ocean conservation. If you are a young person passionate about the world’s ocean, encourage your dive shop or school to apply! The NOAA Ocean Guardian Dive Club provides free educational materials for dive shops and dive clubs to incorporate into their scuba certification programs to teach youth about ocean conservation and stewardship with a focus on safe diving techniques. Schools can get involved with NOAA by becoming a NOAA Ocean Guardian School! By doing so, students will participate in a range of environmental and sustainable activities to conserve local watersheds, the world’s ocean, and/or special ocean areas like national marine sanctuaries.

a girl in a wetsuit on a boat with scuba tanks and a quote that says The NOAA Ocean Guardian Youth Ambassador program has empowered me to get real-life experience with networking and creating events to engage the public with marine science
Photo: Courtesy of Victoria Huber

Happy National Ocean Month!

We hope these tips help others out there feel empowered to take action to celebrate national marine sanctuaries this #OceanMonthNOAA. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, we all have a role to play in protecting our world’s ocean and spectacular national marine sanctuaries.

Chloe McKenna is an intern with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and a master’s student at the University of Edinburgh.
Claire Cutler is an intern with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
Kristi Ryono is a Virtual Student Federal Service Intern for the NOAA Ocean Guardian Youth Ambassador Program and a master’s student at California State University, Los Angeles.
Rachel Plunkett is the content manager and senior writer-editor at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.