The Importance of Marine Education
By Meghan Marrero
This summer’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has brought the ocean and ocean-related issues to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Unfortunately, most Americans do not know much about our blue planet’s most significant feature or adequately understand its complex processes. As a nation we are ocean illiterate, and in the 21st century ocean illiteracy is problematic. As voters, we are asked to make decisions about offshore drilling, alternative energy resources, coastal development, climate change and more. But how can we make good decisions without adequate background knowledge?
The ocean covers over 70 percent of Earth’s surface, is home to a wide diversity of living things, provides most of our oxygen, and is a major influence on weather and climate. Earth is habitable due to the ocean’s tremendous heat-holding capacity. Without it, our planet would be subject to enormous temperature fluctuations, with which humans could not cope.
In addition to its critical role in the functioning of the Earth System, the ocean has been a crucial component in the development of human civilizations. We have relied upon its waters for food and medicine, transportation and trade. The ocean is a place for relaxation and inspiration. We vacation at the beach and read books and buy paintings that tell tales of its moods and depths.
These and other ideas underscore the importance of the ocean in our everyday lives, yet it is largely ignored in our schools. Most teachers are unprepared to teach about marine science topics, and administrators do not view the ocean, which is not particularly prevalent on state exams, as worthy subject matter. Besides its central role in many of today’s societal issues, students are inherently interested in the ocean. They are excited about studying its inhabitants and exploring the mysteries of its depths. Even in 2010, scientists estimate that only 5 percent of the ocean has been explored. This statistic means that for today’s students, the career possibilities related to the ocean are endless.
Here are some ways to get started on incorporating the ocean into your school’s curriculum, and ultimately improving the ocean literacy of students:
• Join the New York State Marine Education Association. NYSMEA works to bring the wonders of the ocean into our classrooms and everyday experiences. Join now, visit our Web site, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter to learn more about this amazing network of people and to gain access to lesson plans, field trip destinations, job, grant and internship opportunities, and much more. NYSMEA holds monthly enrichment activities (e.g., behind-the-scenes tours at local aquaria, build-your-own ROV workshops, seal-watching cruises, and more) throughout the tri-state area, as well as an annual conference that focuses on ocean-based instruction. Visit us at http://www.nysmea.org.
• Get professional development. A simple Internet search will lead you to hundreds of opportunities, including hands-on and online workshops, online webinars, data sets, ocean-based literature, marine careers and more. Today’s students are counting on our inspiration and information.
• “Marinate” your curriculum. The ocean is a naturally interdisciplinary context for learning. How about a unit on maritime history or stories from the sea? In science, consider marine food webs, light penetration to the depths, or an engineering design challenge to solve today’s societal problems.
• Take it outside. We are all part of a watershed, and almost all watersheds on Earth lead to the ocean. Involve students in water quality monitoring, watershed assessments, and debris surveys, helping them to understand their own impacts on the ocean.
Most importantly, remember that the ocean affects us every day, probably more than we know. #
Meghan Marrero, Ed.D. is president of the New York State Marine Education Association and the director of curriculum at U.S. Satellite Laboratory Inc., and is co-author of a new high school marine science textbook. After studying biology and marine science at Cornell University, she pursued her master’s and doctoral degrees in science education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she now teaches methods and oceanography courses to pre- and in-service teachers. Her research interests include improving ocean literacy of teachers and students.