Teens Focus on Ocean & Climate Issues for National Summit

Map of the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers throughout North America

In 1996 the Coastal America Partnership established a network of Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers. High school students team up with experts from the Learning Centers to study issues affecting the ocean and present their plans at the National Student Summit in Washington, D.C.

Eighty high-school students from across the United States and Mexico are teaming up with educators and experts to develop action plans that will address an ocean/climate-related issue in their local communities—such as the impact of runoff on water quality and the effects of sea-level rise and ocean acidification on ecosystems and animals like sea turtles. As part of the Third Student Summit on the Ocean and Coasts, the students will present their plans and project videos in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 15, 2011, in a program that will be webcast live on the Ocean Portal from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The students are working with teachers and local aquariums in 17 states as well as Veracruz, Mexico. The summit is organized by the Coastal America Partnership—a collaboration of federal U.S. agencies, state and local governments, and private organizations—and its purpose is to inspire students to protect, preserve, and restore coastal ecosystems through community involvement and encourage them to pursue future academic and career paths in the marine and environmental sciences.

In all, 20 delegations comprised of students and educators from “Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers" (made up of aquariums, science centers, and museums) throughout the United States and one delegation from Mexico will participate in the summit. Each delegation of four students works closely with a Learning Center educator and local teacher throughout the year to explore the relationship between the ocean and climate.

Students from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab delegation plant smooth cord grass in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Their project is addressing the impacts of rising sea levels on critical coastal habitats through both marsh restoration in the Mobile Bay area and education programs for elementary students.


Coastal America Student Summit

History of the Student Summit

In January 2004, the Coastal America federal partnership and its network of Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers organized the First National Student Summit on Ocean Issues. One highlight of the first summit was the opportunity to provide a student voice in the deliberations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The students addressed coastal issues such as tidal power, habitat restoration, conservation of wildlife, and ocean literacy programs. The students unified in pledging, “we are committed to making a change,” and presented specific personal commitments.

In 2006, Coastal America celebrated its 10-year partnership with the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center network by hosting the Second National Student Summit on Oceans and Coasts. The summit brought together formal and informal educators and offered high school students unique exposure to national ocean leaders. The summit was guided by the premise that such exposure would benefit all involved and would advance an ocean-literate and involved citizenship beyond summit participation and school curricula. As a result, teens across the nation became involved in conservation projects and mentorship programs to promote environmentally healthier coasts and the world’s ocean.

Theme for 2011: The Ocean and Climate

Students studying rainfall point their camera to the clouds.

Students from the Waikiki Aquarium delegation in Hawaii shoot footage of the cloud base from Puu Ualakaa (Round Top Forest Reserve) for their research project on Oahu’s changing rainfall patterns. 


Waikiki Aquarium

The theme of the summit is the Third Principle of Ocean Literacy—“The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate,” and its inverse. This is one principle of a set of seven developed by the Ocean Literacy Network to be aligned with national science curricula. Learning Centers will provide resources to teachers and students to help them explore the relationship between climate and the oceans, coasts, Great Lakes, and inland seas.

The purpose of the summit is threefold: (1) to educate, inspire, and engage the next generation of leaders in marine science, protection, and ocean governance; (2) to engage students in collaborative action to address local coastal issues; and (3) to foster stewardship by creating ocean-literate citizens. The intent is to encourage students to become involved in their community, intrigue them to learn about climate and its relationship to the ocean, and inspire them to explore academic and career paths in related science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Student Present Their Plans At the Summit

Each student delegation will present its action plan and receive constructive support from leaders in the policy, science, and research community. In additon, students will:

  • Learn about environmental policy and ocean/coastal issues from national experts;
  • Work together in a facilitated process to share ideas and develop a joint proclamation for their future community activities;
  • Have the opportunity to share their action plans and proclamation with administration officials and congressional leaders.

A forum exploring advances in ocean and environmental education will be held as well for participating educators. In addition to presentations, students will prepare scientific posters/exhibits about their projects which will be publicly displayed in the Sant Ocean Hall of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. During a special poster session, the posters will be reviewed by representatives of the coastal and marine community who will provide scientific and technical response on the projects.

With feedback from the environmental policy and scientific communities, students will be well-equipped to return to their community to and implement the action plan they developed for the Summit. The students’ implementation of the actions plans and engagement in their communities will provide an important additional learning experience.


Live Webcasts on the Ocean Portal: