Model education-research partnership program encourages students to bridge gaps among ocean science, policy, and conservation for remote ocean regions

Kerry Whittaker, Sea Education Association, Oceanography, Woods Hole, United States, Porter Hoagland, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Policy Center, Woods Hole, MA, United States, Annette Govindarajan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, United States, Kristina Gjerde, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Cambridge, United States, Harriet Harden-Davies, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia, Amy NS Siuda, Eckerd College, Marine Science, St. Petersburg, FL, United States and Paul Joyce, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA, United States
For over 40 years, Sea Education Association (SEA) has offered undergraduate students the opportunity to sail and conduct oceanography in remote ocean regions. SEA’s Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (MBC) program involves students in marine science research and exposes students to issues and analytical approaches in marine policy and conservation. In 2019, MBC students engaged in collaborative research with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI’s) Ocean Twilight Zone (OTZ) Project, using molecular techniques including DNA barcoding and environmental DNA sampling to explore the mesopelagic (“twilight zone”), contributing to ongoing biodiversity research in the Sargasso Sea and tropical western Atlantic regions. The unique diversity and ecosystem functions of the surface and twilight zone habitats of these regions are understudied; but, despite their remoteness, they are impacted by human uses and insults, including climate change. Parallel to their scientific research, students sought to define ‘ocean literacy’ as an awareness of both the ocean’s impact on humans and human impact on the oceans. Following their cruise, the students organized a Symposium where they presented their research and focused on tools for expanding ocean literacy for remote ocean regions, arguing that ocean literacy is essential for justifying marine science, conservation, and policy. Students were the architects of the Symposium, which offered an opportunity to share their experiences, communicate their science, and engage with experts who face the challenges of marine policy and conservation in their own work. Following the Symposium, MBC and OTZ faculty and scientists and two MBC students were invited to present their experience on a panel discussion at the United Nations General Assembly Informal Consultative Process (ICP 20) meeting to plan the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-30. SEA's programs for science and education provide a model for inspiring critical thinkers and ocean stewards. The collaboration between SEA’s MBC and WHOI’s OTZ programs offers a shining example of how partnerships between educational and scientific institutions can help expand our scientific understanding of the ocean and build ocean literacy to support marine policy and conservation.