“I think everybody has a voice, if you have the knowledge…I can make a difference and we can impact our oceans and save them.” Ryane, 11

Over the past three years, Ocean First Institute (OFI) has helped over 3,000 local youth discover the wonders of our ocean. From virtual SCUBA diving to dissections, from local community action projects to mock field research exercises, scientists with OFI have given students the opportunity to explore the fields of marine science & conservation right here in the mountains of Colorado.

The ocean might be out of sight here along the Front Range, but through OFI’s in-school outreach programs (K-12), local youth realize just how connected we all are to the marine world. We rely on our ocean to keep us healthy, even 1,000 miles away from the coast – from the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.

By promoting the idea of ocean connectedness in the Colorado landscape, OFI is recognizing a novel conservation narrative that benefits the ocean and planet. Using charismatic marine life, like the green sea turtle or the great hammerhead shark, OFI uses stories and engaging activities to encourage exploration of our blue planet. Along with unique resources, including real sharks jaws and three million year old coral fossils, OFI staff are able to bring the ocean right into the classroom.

Clean water starts with us in the mountains! Photo Credit: Ocean First Institute.

Working with OFI, students discover the diversity found in the ocean world and extraordinary adaptations that allow marine creatures to survive in various underwater environments. During a shark adaptation program, students can use their skills as scientists to determine what different shark species might eat based on their tooth morphology.

Checking out some toothy jaws! Photo Credit: Ocean First Institute.

Students can also realize the importance of scientists working together, alongside engineers, fisherman, and policymakers, when they investigate current efforts to protect marine life, such as the development of the TED (turtle excluder device). A TED is a set of metal bars that fit inside a net, allowing smaller animals to pass through to the end of the net, while larger animals are stopped by the bars and are able to escape through an opening. This device enables students to understand how fishing practices impact marine life and also how we can work together to protect them. As part of OFI’s sea turtle program, students walk, crawl, or “swim” through a life-sized model of a fishing net with an attached TED, and they are able to exit the net due to this simple and effective innovation!

Students “swimming” through the Turtle Excluder Device (TED). Photo Credit: Ocean First Institute.

OFI’s team of scientists inspires youth to pursue their aquatic interests, sharing their passion for the ocean world and science that is truly contagious with both students and teachers alike. Through these school programs, OFI has given youth the opportunity to not only learn about the marine environment, but also how to become better stewards for the ocean.

Building and testing turbines that are powering LED lights. Photo Credit: Ocean First Institute.

As part of OFI’s climate change program, students learn about the impacts of climate change, as well as discover current efforts to reduce these impacts. During an activity on renewable energy, they work in teams to design their very own wind turbine blades. By exploring the engineering process and creating efficient blades that can power LED lights, the students are challenged to solve problems and also explore how scientists, engineers, and government officials are working together to address climate change in the real world.

These engaging experiences show students that – even from the mountains – they are uniquely suited to protect the ocean.

Local students keeping our waterways clean during a creek cleanup! Photo Credit: Ocean First Institute.

Inspired by OFI’s programs and interactions with staff scientists, Colorado student groups from elementary through high school have designed their own school recycling program, carried out local creek and highway cleanups, reduced energy use within their school, and even created their own artwork made from trash collected during cleanups.

The ocean is in trouble, and each and every one of us can be part of the solution. Scientists with OFI give students the opportunity to do just that. Students are guided through marine science lessons and local community projects, inspiring them to become advocates for our blue planet. The problems facing our planet today are big, but now is the time to take action. No matter your age or where you live, anyone can make a positive difference.

Want to help OFI reach more students? Consider an end-of-the-year gift to help provide programs to over 2,000 students in 2018! Thanks for helping to protect our ocean for generations to come!